How is illegal retaliation defined?

Illegal retaliation occurs when an employer punishes a job applicant or employee for asserting their right to be free from employment discrimination, including harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws define certain actions by employees or job applicants as “protected activity,” and it is unlawful for employers to retaliate for those actions. Filing or participating in a complaint is protected from retaliation under all circumstances. Other actions that are taken in order to protect from discrimination are protected as long as the action was done with the reasonable belief that discrimination did occur, even if he or she does not use the legal terminology to describe it as such.

Other protected actions include but are not limited to:

  • Refusing to follow orders in the workplace that would result in discrimination.
  • Resisting sexual advancement or harassment, or intervening to stop it being done to others.
  • Asking an employer about salary, including the salary of others, to explore any potentially discriminatory wages.
  • Asking for accommodations due to disability or religious practice.

For a full list of protected activities, please visit:

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