Can an employer put an employee on an unpaid leave of absence if an employee filed an harassment claim?

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Can an employer put an employee on an unpaid leave of absence if an employee filed an harassment claim?

I filed an harassment claim against my employer and the very next day after they opened a formal investigation, I was put on unpaid time off. I also filed with the EEOC.

Asked on July 31, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Arizona

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

It depends on what you mean by a "harassment claim." If you mean a claim that you were harassed due to your race, sex, color, national origin, age 40 or over, religion, or disability, then this would be illegal: those categories or characteristics are protected by law, and the law also prevents punishing or taking action against employees for bringing such complaints. In this case, contacting the EEOC, about both the original claim and the retaliation (putting you on unpaid leave) is definitely the correct thing to do. 
It is important to recognize, however, that ONLY certain forms of harassment (e.g. the ones above) are barred by law; other types are not. Your employer may, for example, harass you because the employer does not like your political affiliation; or your tastes in music, sports, or entertainment; or the state (but not country) you came from; or because it simply does not like you (or some significant other or family member of yours); etc.. If you are being harassed for any reason but one of those specifically protected reasons, the harassment is legal; and since it is legal, they can further take action against you (such as the suspension) for complaining about it.


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