When Can Employee Discipline Become a Legal Issue?

In some circumstances, employers need to take disciplinary actions in the workplace. When an employee fails to adhere to the guidelines and policies, it may be in the organization’s best interest to take disciplinary action. An employer might need to do anything from issuing a verbal warning to ultimately terminating an employee. If you know you did something wrong at work, you expect there to be consequences. However, you might suspect the reason behind it was unlawful, such as discrimination or retaliation, if you didn’t do anything to warrant the actions your employer took against you.

Employers do have to take precautions when disciplining employees and can’t discipline employees for whatever reason they want, whenever they want. There is a line where employee discipline becomes unacceptable. Employees need to understand what their rights are regarding disciplinary actions in the workplace.

Discipline and Discrimination

Employees are protected against discrimination in the workplace by various laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, to name just a few. These federal laws and others like them, including state and city laws, protect employees from discrimination related to their age, gender, religion, disabilities, and more. Some ways that discrimination in the workplace can occur include actions like harassment, denying opportunities, and paying lower wages. Another way that employment discrimination can take place is employee discipline.

Employers who discriminate against employees may unfairly discipline their employees because of it. An employee may not have done anything according to the employer’s guidelines and policies to require discipline, but the employer still took action against them. Even if discipline is required, an employer may discipline an employee more severely than the situation warrants and in a way inconsistent with the company’s guidelines if the motivation is discrimination.

Discipline and Retaliation

If an employee witnesses or experiences discrimination, harassment, or other illegal wrongdoings in the workplace, they have the right to report it. This is considered protected activity, meaning that employees can report these behaviours and not be reprimanded for doing so. However, this doesn’t mean that employees are never punished for engaging in protected activity.

Some employees may face retaliation for engaging in protected activity, which is illegal. A few examples of retaliation include reducing an employee’s salary, demoting them, exclusion, and terminating the employee. If an employee engaged in protected activity and was later punished due to it, they need to seek legal counsel.

What To Do if You Believe You Were Unfairly Disciplined

You might think there’s nothing you can do to fight back against discipline at work that you feel is wrong, so you may think you need to accept the damages it has caused for you. However, these behaviors and actions aren’t something you should be expected to deal with in the workplace. If you believe that you were disciplined unlawfully, you may need the help of an employee rights lawyer. Being unfairly disciplined by an employer can cause significant damages, such as loss of wages and benefits, in addition to the emotional pain and suffering it may put you through.

Contact a New York City Employee Rights Lawyer Today

Employee discipline can often be complicated. Many might disagree with being disciplined or the level of discipline they receive, but that alone doesn’t make it illegal. Proving whether or not the discipline you received at work was caused by discrimination or retaliation can be difficult. While you may not know if your employer’s actions were unlawful, it’s best to discuss the situation with an employee rights lawyer to see if you need to take legal action.

At Bantle & Levy, we know that issues understanding employee discipline can be confusing and that you may have many questions about what you can do to get help. Contact our New York City employee rights lawyers today to learn more.

Bantle & Levy

Lee Bantle is a partner at Bantle & Levy LLP. He has extensive legal expertise, admitted to the bars of the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. With a distinguished academic background and clerkship experience, he has been recognized as a top-rated civil rights attorney and esteemed lawyer. In addition to his successful career, he has actively contributed to various legal organizations and serves as a faculty member for NYU's Annual Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges.

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