Have you spoken up about a workplace issue, such as harassment, discrimination, or safety hazards, only to face negative consequences afterward? Unfortunately, some employers take disciplinary or negative action towards employees who question or provide legitimate critical feedback on management’s actions or decisions. This disciplinary action against employees is generally employed to silence or punish them for speaking up. However, Alberta employment law protects employees from retaliation, or “reprisal,” for exercising their workplace rights.

This blog will provide a high-level overview of reprisal in Alberta employment law. It will outline what constitutes reprisal, how to identify it, and what steps you can take if you believe you have been targeted after voicing your concerns regarding a workplace issue.

What is Reprisal?

Reprisal occurs when an employer takes negative action against an employee for exercising their workplace rights regarding an employee’s expression of concern or reporting a genuine workplace issue. Some examples of employee rights in the workplace include:

  • Reporting safety hazards: Employees have a right to a safe work environment and are allowed to raise concerns about potential dangers without fear of retaliation.
  • Filing a complaint: If an employee experiences harassment, discrimination, or unfair treatment, they have the right to file a complaint with their employer, a government agency, or a union (if applicable).
  • Refusing unsafe work: Employees have the right to refuse dangerous work and should not face repercussions for doing so.
  • Exercising other statutory rights: Alberta employment law grants employees various rights, including minimum wage standards, overtime pay, and breaks under the provincial Employment Standards Code. Employers cannot retaliate against employees for asserting these rights.

Both employment standards legislation and common law principles protect employees in Alberta. As such, if an employer fabricates a fictional reason to terminate an employee in reprisal, the employee may have grounds to pursue a wrongful dismissal claim.

How to Recognize Reprisal

Depending on the employer and the circumstances of the issue, reprisal can take many forms, both subtle and overt. In some cases, reprisal may involve direct targeting of the complainant employee, while other situations may disguise reprisal through indirect factors.

Examples of Direct Reprisal

  • Disciplinary Action: If you have experienced disciplinary measures, such as a written warning or suspension, after voicing your concerns of a workplace issue, you may have experienced reprisal.
  • Termination: Terminating your employment without just cause is the most extreme form of reprisal that an employer can take.

Examples of Indirect Reprisal

  • Reduced Hours or Responsibilities: In some cases, reprisal may be executed through less obvious methods, such as reduced hours, being assigned undesirable tasks, or experiencing a general demotion after raising concerns could be retaliation.
  • Exclusion or Negative Treatment: After speaking up on a workplace issue, you may experience being ostracized, ignored, or subjected to a hostile or toxic work environment as a form of reprisal.
  • Denial of Opportunities: An employer may retaliate against an employee by unfairly passing over them for a training opportunity or promotion.

How to Prove Reprisal

If you believe you have been targeted for exercising your workplace rights, the burden of proof typically falls on you to demonstrate a connection between your actions and the negative consequences you faced. Generally, reprisal can be inferred from several factors, including:

  • The timing of the negative or disciplinary action after the employee voiced their concern or reported a workplace issue;
  • The employer’s intention to deter, punish, or silence the employee;
  • The impact of the negative threat or action (such as financial, emotional or professional harm); and
  • The evidence supporting the existence of the negative threat or action.

As such, employees should keep a detailed record of the events and communications after the event. Emails, letters and other correspondence can help support your claim. Being familiar with your rights and responsibilities under the applicable employment laws is also important. It is also important to consult a skilled employment lawyer who can assess your situation, advise you on your options, and represent you in any legal proceedings against your employer.

Key Takeaways for Employees

Alberta law empowers employees to speak up about workplace issues without fear of retribution. If you believe you have been targeted for exercising your rights or voicing your concerns, seeking legal advice to identify your options and pursue the best course of action is important. A healthy workplace thrives on open communication and respect for employee rights. As such, it is important to be familiar with your rights in the workplace and feel comfortable asserting them without fear of negative consequences.

Contact the Employment Lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates for Advice on Reprisal and Wrongful Termination Matters

The skilled employment lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates represent employees and employers in various complex employment law matters. We advise clients on their options when working through constructive or wrongful dismissal claims, workplace health and safety issues, and employment standards claims. From our offices in Strathmore and Calgary, we guide clients through effective dispute resolution methods, including negotiations through litigation, if required. To schedule a confidential consultation with one of our employment lawyers, contact us online or by phone at (587) 391-5600.