Retaliation claims are the most common charge the EEOC receives. Retaliation is, in plain words, to return an injury in kind or get revenge. It is common in companies; for example, when an employee makes a lawful or protected claim against the company or somebody in it that upsets their supervisor or someone in management.
Retaliation against an employee for a protected activity is illegal. One of the elements that must be present in retaliation claims must be a “causal connection,” which is a link between the protected conduct and the harmful action to the employee that followed.
How does an employee prove a causal connection?
One way of establishing a causal connection is through temporal proximity, which essentially refers to closeness in the amount of time between the protected activity and the punishment.
Courts look at these connections, which provide a timeline that helps understand the chain of events. It can help make a strong retaliation case against an employer who has, for example, wrongfully terminated an employee. Sometimes, a causal connection can be as short as one day. In others, it can be six months. It depends on the case’s specific circumstances, and the courts try to get the entire picture of what took place.
Usually, as stated above, this takes place when an employee engages in legally protected activity and their employer retaliates by punishing them (which can happen in various forms, from a warning to termination). The employee is trying to connect the legally protected activity and the company’s retaliation against the employee.
Causal connection is only one element required, albeit important, to link illegal behavior to retaliation against an employee. However, both employers and employees must keep this in mind.