People often think that they will know immediately if their employer takes issue with their behavior, especially if the company decides to wrongfully terminate them. People imagine that retaliation in the workplace is obvious and instant, such as getting fired in the same meeting where you report an issue with racial discrimination. Although wrongful termination can occur as a direct result of reporting misconduct or otherwise asserting you rights, such situations are not particularly common.
Most managers, business owners and human resources professionals understand they could put the company in a risky position by taking immediate punitive action against you. Firing you for standing up for yourself would likely lead to a straightforward claim of retaliation or wrongful termination.
Companies want to protect themselves from expensive legal claims, which means that wrongful terminations often take some time to occur and may start with progressive discipline.
Progressive discipline creates a viable cover story
Many businesses have a progressive discipline policy that allows them to impose increasingly strict penalties when workers violate company rules or fail to meet performance standards. Multiple infractions can lead to a justified firing.
Your employer might start enforcing minor rules and writing you up for tiny infractions, or you might start receiving poor performance reviews. Writing you up multiple times or submitting a report that claims your performance has worsened could give your company justification to terminate you or to demote you.
Anyone facing questionable performance reviews or a disciplinary write-up after attempting to assert employment rights, such as asking for disability accommodations, might be facing retaliation.
How do you protect yourself?
The solution to employer retaliation issues is not to avoid making use of your employment rights but rather to collect evidence to support your claims of company misconduct. The more records you have affirming that you made use of your employment rights, the easier it may be for you to draw a correlation between the timing of disciplinary efforts and your assertion of your rights.
Keeping personal records of when you make reports and complaints to your company and of every disciplinary effort, including verbal or informal warnings, could help you show a pattern of behavior. Talking with a professional about your concerns could also help you fight back against a wrongful termination.