Can an employer retaliate when an employee complains about harassment or discrimination in Florida?
Under both federal and Florida law, an employee who engages in the protected activity of complaining to the employer about sexual harassment or discrimination based upon protected characteristics (including age, race, sex, national origin, religion, genetic condition) may not be retaliated against for making that complaint. Retaliation often may include reduction in hours, a poor performance evaluation, increased job duties, disciplinary actions, demotions, failure to receive promotions or termination of employment.
Under the law, an employee who can establish retaliation for engaging in protected conduct may be entitled to recover damages, including lost wages, lost benefits, compensation for emotional distress and other non-financial damages, punitive (punishment) damages, attorney’s fees and court costs.
Additionally, if an employee files a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) and is retaliated against by the employer, the employee may have an additional claim for retaliation separate and apart from the underlying discrimination claim. Employees are also protected against retaliation if they participate in an administrative proceeding or investigation regarding another employee’s claim of discrimination or if the employee provides testimony in a discrimination action. In a retaliation case, the employee can recover the same damages discussed above as discrimination claims. In fact, an employer cannot refuse to hire or terminate an employee because that employee complained about discrimination against a previous employer.
There are additional state and federal laws that prohibit retaliation for engaging in certain protected conduct. For example, an employee may not suffer adverse action for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or for filing a workers’ compensation claim. An employee may also not be retaliated against for whistleblowing or disclosing an employer’s violation of a federal, state or local law, rule or regulation. If an employee feels he or she has been retaliated against for engaging in protected activity, the employee should contact a qualified employment attorney.