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What are adverse actions?

In the context of employment law, adverse actions are a type of retaliation against workers. The law prevents employers from taking retaliatory action against workers who report or otherwise oppose an illegal action such as discrimination practices. The purpose of the law is to protect the job and opportunities of such workers in the face of an employer or supervisor who might be upset about a report or other action.

One of the most extreme examples of an adverse action is termination. An employer is not allowed to fire or lay off a worker simply because that worker reported or opposed discrimination in the workplace. Employers can't otherwise cause a worker to not have a job for the same reason, and that includes failure to promote or hire a worker solely because of his or her actions with regard to opposition of discrimination.

Employers cannot take actions against employees that are threatening in nature to punish the employee for his or her report of discrimination. They also can't place the employee under any sort of special surveillance or bring civil or criminal allegations against the employee that are otherwise unfounded. This type of activity is seen as the employer trying to deter people from speaking up for civil rights.

In short, the employer shouldn't treat an employee differently from other workers simply because that employee reported discrimination or otherwise spoke against discrimination in the workplace. However, there are a number of actions that aren't necessarily considered adverse actions. A petty slight or stray comment would not be considered an adverse action. A worker couldn't bring a lawsuit or other action simply because he or she felt "snubbed" in the workplace.

Understanding whether you are protected against adverse actions and whether adverse actions are being taken against you can be difficult. Consulting with a third-party legal professional can help you better understand such issues.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Facts About Retaliation," accessed July 15, 2016

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