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What is an adverse employment action?

You undoubtedly know that if you report workplace discrimination to your California company’s management and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, federal law forbids your employer to fire you or retaliate against you in any other discriminatory manner. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strictly prohibits such adverse employment actions.

While some adverse employment actions, such as termination, are easy to spot, other kinds of retaliatory discrimination are subtler and not always recognized for what they are. For instance, your employer likewise cannot retaliate against you by means of any of the following:

  • Reduce or threaten to reduce your salary or wages
  • Reassign your work duties to other employees
  • Take away your supervisory responsibilities
  • Examine your work excessively
  • Threaten to report you or one of your family members to immigration authorities
  • Criticize you in public, especially in the media

Objective standard

The U.S. Supreme Court considers “adverse employment action” an objective standard even though the act(s) that constitute it must be determined on a case-by-case basis. In other words, whether or not you have a valid adverse employment action claim depends on the circumstances surrounding what your employer did to you. In various cases throughout the decades, the Court has held that all of the following acts amounted to adverse employment actions in their respective situations:

  • Relocating the employee to a less favorable job site
  • Scheduling the employee’s hours or work abusively
  • Putting the employee under surveillance while at work
  • Sabotaging or undermining the employee’s work
  • Assigning the employee more work than that assigned to other employees who held the same job description or were part of the same pay grade
  • Holding team lunches and disinviting the employee, even though (s)he was a team member

Bottom line, an adverse employment action is any retaliatory act your employer commits for the purpose of dissuading you and your co-workers from reporting workplace discrimination in the future.

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