By Denise K. Bonnaig, Esq., Member, Bonnaig & Associates
Sometimes employees are fortunate NOT to be subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, pregnancy, color, gender, religion, or any other protected category. Perhaps you’re one of those employees that has always been treated fairly, equitably, and increases in your salary and rank have always been based on merit. If this is your situation, that’s wonderful, because that’s how it should be.
Your colleagues may not be that fortunate. Some of them may have been subjected to acts of sexual harassment or other form of differential treatment IN YOUR PRESENCE.
This means that you are a WITNESS to unlawful treatment in the workplace.
If your colleague reports the unlawful treatment to the company (as it is in their best interest to do so) and names you as a witness, or if your colleague starts litigation and names you as a witness, you may be called into Human Resources and/or subpoenaed for testimony under oath.
Do you feel filled with fear immediately, that telling the truth about what you witnessed, will jeopardize your job and impair your ability to support yourself and/or your family and/or your aging parents? That’s understandable. However, know that the employment laws in place today protect individuals who are witnesses to unlawful conduct in the workplace, such as differential treatment based on the following, including:
• Age (actual or perceived)
• National origin
• Gender (actual or perceived)
• Disability (actual or perceived)
• Marital Status
• Sexual Orientation (actual or perceived)
• Citizenship status
• Genetic predisposition or carrier status
• Victim of Domestic Violence (actual or perceived)
If you serve as a witness, the law states that you should not be subjected to any retaliation. Well, what if you are subjected to retaliation? If you are, and you can prove that the acts of retaliation are causally related to you serving as a witness, you may be able to bring your own legal action against your employer.
Having said that, prevention is better than litigation—and cheaper too.
Employees who are witnesses are best served when they obtain legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer the minute they know they may be called as a witness. That way, the potential witness can receive a thorough education about how to protect their rights in the workplace, given that they are a witness, and how to report acts of retribution, if they occur.
In some cases, the lawyer may (with your permission) alert the company that you have a lawyer that will be representing you and, in my experience, this provides an additional layer of protection for you, while you tell the truth. This lawyer may (if appropriate) appear at meetings at which you’re interviewed, defend you at deposition, or prepare you for your trial testimony.
Your goal is to avoid retribution for telling the truth, and the law is here to protect you!
Our next blog will discuss employees who decide to report acts of discrimination on behalf of the victim of discrimination.
Stay tuned, and keep visiting our blog.