Federal and state laws grant employees rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay and freedom from discrimination and harassment. If an employer or fellow employee interferes with an employee's rights, that employee has a right to complain. State laws and agency policy dictate whether complaints are confidential; however, employees cannot lose their jobs in retaliation for filing a complaint.
Many types of complaints do not allow anonymity. For example, the Office of Safety and Hazard Administration, or OSHA, requires employees to sign written complaints about safety conditions at the workplace. OSHA keeps complaints confidential, however, even though it does not allow anonymity. Some state or local agencies, such as the Cambridge Police Department, may give employers the right to know who complained about them.
Many states have laws against retaliation. If an employer finds out that an employee made a complaint against him, the employer is legally prohibited from firing the employee or otherwise retaliating against him. For example, an employer cannot refuse to promote an employee or take disciplinary action against her because she filed a complaint against him with a government agency or other agency in authority over the employer.
If a particular state does not have statutes regarding whether employers can find out who filed a complaint against them, the employer is presumed to have the right to do so. If the state furthermore has no specific anti-retaliation statutes, employers cannot fire employees in retaliation for filing a complaint, but employees have little recourse if employers take other retaliatory action against them such as demoting them or refusing to promote them.
What to Do
Seek legal counsel if you are considering filing a complaint against your employer. A lawyer can tell you whether your complaint has enough merit to proceed and whether you should file a complaint with a state agency or file a lawsuit. In addition, your attorney can help you take action to protect yourself against retaliation and prepare a response if your employer retaliates against you for the complaint.
- Cambridge Police Department: Filing a Complaint Against a Cambridge Police Department Employee
- Washington Law Help: Your Rights and Responsibilities as an Employee in Washington State: Discrimination and Retaliation (pp. 7-11)
- OSHA: OSHA's Field Operations Manual - Whistleblower Complaints (pp. 9-13)
Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.