In general, there exist few grounds for you to challenge employer actions such as demotions or terminations. At-will employment means the law does not usually forbid employers from acting harshly or unfairly.
However, Hawaii law does carve out exceptions making certain types of employer conduct illegal. One of them is retaliating against certain types of actions by employees.
Some laws have built-in protection
Many statutes that protect employees also prohibit employers from retaliating against someone for asserting rights under the statute in question. For example, your employer may not retaliate against you for filing a discrimination claim, complaining about sexual harassment or requesting disability accommodations.
Whistleblowers and other public policy concerns
Hawaii law also includes protection for whistleblowers. These provisions protect employees against retaliation for reporting violations by the employer or for cooperating with investigations or legal actions involving the employer. The reason for this law is that the government does not want violations to go unreported because people fear losing their jobs if they speak up. An important note: This law applies to reporting these issues to government or court officials, not to the media.
Other types of retaliation established by the courts
Hawaii courts have also established other situations where you should not face retaliation for asserting legal rights. These include pursuing a workers' compensation claim or refusing to work under conditions that violate health and safety laws. This legal protection also extends to workers who face problems because they refuse to break the law at the employer's instructions.
Pursuing a retaliation claim
It is clear you have a retaliation situation on your hands if your employer announces you are fired because of the sexual harassment claim you filed last week. In many cases, however, retaliatory actions may be far less obvious. Employers may try to back up adverse actions by claiming you deserved the pay cut or termination because of your poor performance or other issues unrelated to your claim.
However, with the right help and preparation, you can protect yourself legally even in a complicated situation. If you believe you may face retaliation, consult an experienced employment attorney to figure out the best way forward.