Supervisors need to know: don’t penalize complainers

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Sometimes employees file discrimination complaints just to see if their employers will retaliate in some way. Then they hit back with a retaliation claim. It’s a classic trap—and it doesn’t matter if the original complaint was weak. Don’t fall for it.

Instead, make sure you treat the employee exactly as you would have if he hadn’t filed the complaint. The test for retaliation under federal law is whether the employer’s act would deter a reasonable worker from complaining in the first place, so use that as your guide.

Recent case: Abiodun Sodipo, who is black and from Nigeria, complained to the EEOC that his employer was treating him unfairly by not processing his immigration paperwork fast enough. Then, when Sodipo went to the hospital for what he claimed was work-related stress, he was allowed to take a six-week medical leave of absence.

During the leave, his employer banned him from the office and denied him access to his company-issued laptop and work files. He claimed that taking the laptop was retaliation for filing the EEOC complaint.

But the company explained that it had banned him from working so that he could concentrate on health improvement. 

The federal judge hearing the case concluded that Sodipo had suffered no adverse employment action—which is a necessary element in a retaliation case. He was simply banned from working on leave for seemingly legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons—his own good health. The judge concluded that being banned from working during a requested medical leave would not dissuade a reasonable employee from filing a discrimination complaint. (Sodipo v. Caymas Systems, No. 06-05794, ND CA, 2007)

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