Can You Terminate an Employee After They’ve Filed an Internal Grievance?

January 22, 2016

What’s an internal grievance? An internal grievance is filed by an employee who hopes to be provided with the opportunity to clear the air with their employer. An employee might file a grievance for discrimination or unlawful practice (such as embezzlement or money laundering, etc.). However, the employee is not necessarily likely to prevail.

Can an employer fire an employee after they’ve filed an internal grievance? The official answer is no. However, the facts occasionally suggest otherwise. Georgia is an “at will” state, meaning that employees (unless explicitly stated otherwise) are not protected should their employer wish to fire them. However, employers are protected— and, unsurprisingly, they usually take advantage of this. An “at-will” employee is retained at the will of the employer. If the employer wants to fire the employee for any reason, he is generally able to do so. Workers do have some protection against discrimination and retaliation. However, it’s not always an easy process.

Employees are generally aware that they are protected from retaliation by an employer after filing a grievance by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964. An employee can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which administers both federal and state discrimination claims and has offices in Atlanta.

It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a grievance. Proving retaliation, however, is quite another matter. The federal laws that protect employees from retaliation such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act are only effective if employees can be certain that they won’t be fired for speaking up. You may also be protected under a state law (such as the Georgia Whistleblower Act). To prove a retaliation claim, an employee must show 1. That the employee was engaged in protected conduct 2. That the employer knew this and retaliated, and 3. That the adverse action and protected conduct are causally connected. Adair v. Charter County of Wayne, noted that to prove a causal connection, the plaintiff “must produce sufficient evidence from which an inference can be drawn that the adverse action would not have been taken had the plaintiff not” engaged in a protected activity.

Federal case law provides more guidance. In Romney v. Los Angeles Police Department, the 4 million award given to an individual police officer post-termination demonstrated the cost that an employer might pay for retaliation after an employee has filed an internal grievance.

There are numerous cases in federal law that exemplify exactly why firing an employee for filing an internal grievance can be a risky procedure for any employer. In Sias v City Demonstration Agency, a former employee who had been fired for reporting the discrimination of his employer was protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964. However, in Sullivan v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. the court found that even if the employee was guilty of sexual harassment, the retaliation claim was a separate issue.

For any additional questions about how and when to file an internal grievance, reach out to PCW Law Firm.

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