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What is an adverse employment action?

You probably already know that the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 prohibits your employer from retaliating against you if you discover other employees engaging in illegal acts and report these activities to your superiors and/or to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As you might expect, however, retaliatory acts can take a variety of forms. Consequently, the EEOC explains that both federal law and the U.S. Supreme Court maintain ever-growing lists of prohibited actions, called adverse employment actions, that no employer can take against you should you become a whistleblower.

Keep in mind that no one-size-fits-all definition exists as to what constitutes an adverse employment action. Rather, courts must determine on a case-by-case basis whether or not a specific act by a specific employer against a specific whistleblower employee rises to the level of an adverse employment action.

Rather obvious prohibited actions

Almost without exception, if your employer does one of the following after you blow the whistle, it amounts to an adverse employment action:

  • Fires you
  • Demotes you
  • Decreases your salary or wage
  • Relocates you to a less desirable work location
  • Assigns you more work than other employees who have the same job classification

Not so obvious prohibited actions

Other retaliatory actions are less blatant, but nevertheless prohibited. For instance, various SCOTUS cases held the following to be adverse employment actions:

  • Threatening to report you or a family member to immigration officials
  • Subjecting you to excessive monitoring or surveillance at work
  • Depriving you of your supervisory duties
  • Failing to invite you to work team lunches when you are a member of the team
  • Criticizing you publicly, especially in the media

All in all, adverse employment actions represent a very broad category of retaliatory measures that your employer cannot take against you once you become a whistleblower.

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