How to Prove Retaliation in the Workplace

Your place of employment should be a safe haven where you do your work in a pleasant atmosphere and collect a fair wage. If you experience discrimination or harassment, there are laws that exist to protect you.

You are allowed to make formal complaints about fellow workers or supervisors to your HR department or manager if you are being discriminated against or harassed. There may be unwanted sexual advances or unsafe work conditions. Some employers will try to punish employees for making these kinds of complaints.

You should never be negatively impacted because of who you are.  Retaliation is a negative action because of an employee’s protected activity. This includes filing a complaint about unwanted sexual advances or illegal activity as well as gender, race, religion, disability, pregnancy, and age.

Protect yourself and fellow employees from any retaliation by collecting evidence and understanding what your employer can and can’t do after you file a complaint for a protected action. This will help you prove any retaliation in the workplace.

If this happens, what can you do about it? Here are some steps on how to prove retaliation in the workplace:

Protected activities

There are certain activities that employers cannot retaliate against. These include complaints about the discrimination of any employee or even threatening to do so. You can refuse to participate in any activity you think is illegal without rebuke. If you intervene on someone else’s behalf or complain about any discriminatory actions with regard to wages or job placements this is also protected against retaliation.

There are several other instances where harassment and discrimination may occur. You have to show that there has been harassment, discrimination, or even illegal activity done by your employer. You can be in opposition to any act that is illegal under the discrimination laws or participate in an investigation or lawsuit of such harassment and discrimination.

How to prove retaliation

Make sure to document everything you can when there is a situation that occurs. This documentation proves that there has been retaliation in the workplace. Write down any exclusion from company meetings as well as other retaliations including:

  • Termination
  • Demotion
  • Job reassignment
  • Wage decrease
  • Discipline
  • Bad performance reviews

You are protected from this type of retaliation so you must collect proof in any way you can. Use corporate investigation services to collect proof if you need help.

Causal connection

This is where you need to prove that the negative retaliatory employment action was the result of you engaging in a protected activity. There must be a connection. This is often hard to prove so you must collect evidence. You have to show that your employer knew about the protected activity prior to any retaliation and that there was no other reason for it.

If they didn’t have knowledge of your protected activity, then you can’t prove their retaliation. There has to be an explanation for any employment action taken against you so you need to show a casual connection between the two events.


Another way to prove retaliation is the timing of any adverse action. When you file a complaint with HR or management with regard to discrimination or harassment, you should not experience any retaliation. If there is a sudden change in your employment like reassignment, transfer, or even dismissal, you have a strong case for retaliation.

The timing of the negative employment action can prove causation. This has to have occurred close to the time that you engaged in protected activity.

Policy violation

Most companies have disciplinary policies in place for their employees. These are usually progressive and follow a step-by-step process based on the circumstances and severity of the behaviour or situation. If your employer doesn’t follow these guidelines and disciplines you too harshly without cause, this can show retaliation.

There can also be a difference in treatment between employees. If you are being disciplined more harshly than another worker for the same violation, they may be targeting you because of a protected activity complaint.

Change in performance response

Your boss may allow longer breaks or even occasionally combining in late. If this changes as a result of receiving a protected report, this shows a link between regular performance allowances before and after your protected activity. Also if you have been given great performance reviews in the past and then receive a negative one or have your employment terminated, there is a strong case for retaliation.

If you have formally made complaints against an employer or supervisor and are noticing retaliatory actions, make sure to document everything. It is also important to make your employer aware on paper that you engaged in a protected activity. That way they have been notified of it and can’t come back later stating they didn’t know.

The law protects all employee’s rights with regards to workplace discrimination and harassment. There are provisions to prohibit any retaliation based on a complaint of discrimination.

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