Employees in the public and private sectors are granted numerous rights regarding their employment status and treatment by their organization. Many of these protections are in place to ensure basic rights are provided to all employees, while others have the intent of protecting employees that bring awareness to violations and non-compliance of their organization, whether the company is doing so purposely or by mistake.
In such a situation, an employee notifies their employer's leadership, or an outside agency, about a violation being conducted by their organization. If an employee makes a good faith complaint, their employer is not allowed to treat them in an adverse manner. Complaints may be made if an employer is discriminating against a certain class of employees, or if they are violating the regulations of federal law, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Employees are attempting to protect themselves, their co-workers or even their company as a whole, and should not be mistreated by their employer as a result.
In addition to protecting whistleblower employees, retaliation laws protect employees in other circumstances. For instance, employees asserting their rights under FMLA, USERRA or the ADA may not be punished for promoting their legal options. Employees who refuse to commit an illegal act as instructed by their employer may not be punished either. Employers in such situations need to be careful in conducting any adverse action against an employee that raises such a complaint, as such an action may the appearance of being retaliatory.
The legitimacy of an employee's complaint is irrelevant in the consideration of whether they have been retaliated against. As long as the employee felt that the employer was violating a right or a regulation, they are allowed to raise the issue. Any employee who feels they have been retaliated against by their employer may protect themselves from such actions.
Source: HR Hero, "Retaliation in the Workplace," accessed on May 17, 2015