Generally speaking, employment-related retaliation laws prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees who engage in protected conduct, like complaining about discrimination or harassment, or for participating in a governmental investigation.
There is no doubt anti-retaliation laws serve a good purpose, but did you know there are at least 40 different federal anti-retaliation laws? This does not even include the various state anti-retaliation laws. The scope of these laws is vast. There are anti-retaliation provisions in the federal employment laws, the Clean Air Act, the International Safe Container Act, and many more, but what is even more surprising is that the language of these anti-retaliation provisions varies just about as must as the areas of law in which they cover.
Sexton v. Panel Processing, Inc. is a recent Sixth Circuit case addressing ERISA’s anti-retaliation provision that highlights this point and proves that all anti-retaliation provisions are not created equal. Our sister blog, the Employer Benefits Report recently published a detailed analysis of this case, which is available here. Although Sexton held that a plain reading of the statute excludes unsolicited employee complaints, that decision is in conflict with other circuits. This disagreement among the federal courts on the meaning of ERISA’s anti-retaliatory provision should serve as a caution to employers to be very careful about actions they may take against an employee who has lodged a workplace complaint.