The United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that an employee who verbally complains about alleged violations of the federal wage and hour laws is protected from retaliation. Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastic Corporation, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 2471 (March 22, 2011). The Court's decision does not come as a surprise. Most labor and employment lawyers have long advised employers to treat oral complaints as "protected conduct" under Iowa and federal law.
The Kasten decision involves federal laws, but offers guidance and direction on Iowa non-retaliation laws. Essentially, Iowa employers should avoid any conduct that might be deemed retaliatory. Any action that would tend to cause a reasonable person to refrain from asserting legal rights or to refrain from participating in unlawful conduct could be considered retaliatory. Terminations and pay cuts are obvious adverse actions, but even subtle job actions such as duty changes, transfers, or poor evaluations may give rise to retaliation claims.
In Iowa, there are numerous statutes and administrative regulations that prohibit retaliation. For example, the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Wage Payment Collection Act and the Iowa unemployment statutes all have non-retaliation provisions or have been interpreted so as to prohibit retaliation.
Iowa employers should be aware of the Kasten standard and continue to follow rules of fundamental fairness when dealing with employees who might have engaged in protected conduct.