Though some may perceive the term "filing a complaint" to only refer to written complaints, according to the Supreme Court, the phrase may also refer to oral complaints in the workplace, making them covered under labor laws.
The Supreme Court's ruling in the case Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation was in regards to a complaint by Kevin Kasten who claims he was fired by Saint Gobain for an oral complaint he had risen. Saint Gobain allegedly had the time clock in an area that limited employees to clocking in and out without having time included for putting on and removing safety gear, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
After Kasten continuously brought up the issue of the the clock's placement, he was fired for alleged misuse of the time clock, and sued claiming he was fired in retaliation for his complaint. Though lower courts decided that the complaint didn't count, in a six to two decision, the Supreme Court ruled that oral complaints by employees are just as viable as written ones.
This ruling may make it necessary for small business owners to deeply investigate all employee complaints, whether they are filed on paper or not. Even remarks made in passing may actually be serious grievances for an employee and, if not taken seriously, could later on land the employer in court. Should this occur, small business owners may benefit from having employment practices liability insurance coverage to help financially manage the dispute.