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Can your employer punish you if a discrimination or harassment complaint is unfounded?

You felt discriminated against because of your gender at work, but you did everything right: You kept notes and filed a complaint with the higher-ups in the human resources department. After a brief investigation, you’re told that the company wasn’t able to substantiate your claim, and you’re given an explanation as to why.

What happens now? You get the sense that your manager wasn’t exactly thrilled with you for filing the complaint in the first place. Now that your allegations have been dismissed, are you “fair game” for whatever your manager tries to dish out?

Under the law, you have every right to report illegal behavior — including gender discrimination. You can even be wrong about your allegations, but that still doesn’t make it okay for your employer to retaliate as long as you were acting in good faith. That means that your employer cannot do things like cut your hours, change your shift to something less desirable or fire you. Nor can they do things like transfer you to another office just to separate you from the situation if that change can be seen as punitive in some way.

You can still be disciplined for other things. To use an unlikely example, imagine that the investigation spurred on by your complaint turned up evidence that you were really complaining to get even with your manager for denying your vacation time. If there was ironclad proof that your complaint wasn’t genuinely meant, then you could be fired.

Naturally, not every employer plays by the rules. If you’re victimized by employer retaliation after you file a complaint, you do have legal rights. An attorney can help you enforce them.

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