Even small changes to employees’ schedules can equal retaliation

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

To prove retaliation claims in court, employees must be able to show they suffered negative employment action in response to their lawsuit, such as termination, lowering of pay, denying a promotion or being moved to a worse shift. Acts that are merely annoying to the employee won't rise to the level of "retaliation."

But, as a new ruling shows, simple annoyances to one person could amount to actionable retaliation for another; you must look at the individual case. Even if the average employee wouldn't consider something a negative employment action, it could reach that level for a particularly vulnerable employee.

Bottom line: Here's more reason to remind supervisors to take a completely "hands off" approach to employees who file a workplace complaint. Resist the temptation to strike back in any way.

Recent case: Executive secretary Chrissie Washington worked for the Illinois government on a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift to allow her to meet her disabled son at the school bus. But soon after she filed a race-discrimination complaint, Washington's boss rescinded that flexible schedule, making her work the same 9-to-5 schedule as other employees.

She sued for retaliation, claiming the schedule change was an adverse-employment action intended to punish her for her lawsuit. The 7th Circuit agreed, saying the 9-to-5 schedule switch "was a materially adverse change for her, even though it would not have been for 99 percent of the staff." (Washington v. Illinois Department of Revenue, No. 03-3818, 7th Cir., 2005)

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