Retaliation in the workplace can occur in many different ways. There are a number of state and federal laws that protect employees from retaliation as a result of taking actions such as reporting illegal conduct, participating in a legal proceeding against the employer, exercising certain legal rights, or refusing to participate in illegal or unethical conduct at the employer’s direction.  Some examples of retaliatory actions taken by an employer include demotion, disciplining, firing, laying off, intimidation, reassignment to a less desirable position, or reducing pay or hours. 

Exercising Legal Rights

There are many state and federal laws that not only afford employees certain legal rights in the workplace, but also establish additional protection for employees who exercise those rights and face retaliation for doing so. Some examples of laws that include anti-retaliation provisions include: 

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII)
  • Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA)
  • Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 


Whistleblowers are the guardians of the public interest. There are a wide range of different state and federal whistleblower laws that apply in various contexts.  For instance, in Illinois, the Illinois Whistleblower Act (IWA) protects employees against retaliation for disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency when that employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of a state or federal law. The Act further protects employees from retaliation for refusing to participate in an activity that the employee believes would result in a violation of a law or regulation.

FAQs About Whistleblowers

What qualifies as retaliation in the workplace?

Retaliation in the workplace is generally any adverse employment action that an employer takes against an employee. Some examples of adverse employment actions include, but are not limited to, demotion, disciplining, firing or laying off, intimidation, reassignment to a less desirable position, reducing pay or hours, etc.

Retaliation is illegal when the employee’s action is protected by a specific federal or state law. For instance, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for actions such as reporting discriminatory or harassing conduct, taking FMLA leave, making a workers’ compensation claim, or being a whistleblower.

No. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for reporting violations of workplace safety and health laws.

No. There are a range of different whistleblower laws on the state and federal level that protect employees from retaliation for refusing to participate in illegal conduct at the direction of their employer.

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Contact Caffarelli & Associates, Ltd. to Learn More. Alejandro Caffarelli is proud to represent the interests of whistleblowers nationwide. Our Chicago employment law firm is able to help you in regards to whistleblower protection. Contact us for a free consultation.

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