When you engage in lawfully protected behavior like reporting workplace harassment or acting as a witness against illegal activity at work, it is possible someone at your workplace might retaliate against you. The purpose of such retaliation is more than just an act of spite. It is to deter other workers from engaging in similar protected activities.

Federal law prohibits this kind of retaliation, also known as materially adverse action. Since no worker should suffer this kind of abuse, it is important to recognize materially adverse actions when they occur. Sometimes you might not know if a superior at work is trying to punish you for your actions.

Examples of materially adverse actions

As Forbes explains, the idea is of a materially adverse action is to make an example of you so that other employees will feel intimidated and remain silent if they witness wrongdoing at work. A vengeful superior may seek to punish you by suddenly cutting off your benefits, denying you a justly earned promotion, demoting you, suspending you without reason, or outright terminating your employment.

Unclear examples of workplace retaliation

Sometimes it is not always clear when your workplace is retaliating against you. For instance, losing the privilege of using a work office might not constitute adverse action if your employer needed to perform a building renovation. Similarly, if you experience a delay in receiving a refund check, it might not be personal to you if other workers experienced identical delays.

You might also notice a lack of good manners or courtesies from your colleagues. A superior fails to address you properly or simply ignores you. These petty slights or annoyances may feel unwelcome, but they might not qualify as materially adverse actions. People in these circumstances might seek out the advice of legal counsel to better understand their situation.