Retaliation and How to Avoid Doing It

Harassment is unfortunately common in the modern world. This is no less true for the workplace, but when it happens in the workplace, legal ramifications can threaten the financial security and public image of a business. The best thing an organization can do to face down harassment and come out better for it is to be proactive in their efforts to receive complaints and stamp out issues. Creating an easy and safe way for employees to report misconduct is essential for creating a healthy and safe workplace for everyone.

While receiving and addressing issues of harassment or discrimination is imperative, creating an opportunity for others to speak out against their coworkers or bosses also makes room for the possibility of retaliation against those who speak out on behalf of themselves or others. Whether the claims of discrimination are legitimate or not, retaliation against such claims can pose as great a threat to the organization as the discrimination itself.

What is Retaliation?

Retaliation in a broad sense is any action that is taken against a person as a result of their previous actions. When it comes to businesses and legal issues, retaliation laws are more specifically outlined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). EEO law prohibits the punishment of job applicants or employees for participating in what are called “protected activities” which include but are not limited to: filing or being witness in an EEO claim, speaking out about discrimination in the workplace, resisting sexual advances or intervening on the behalf of others, requesting accommodation of a disability or religious practices, or asking about salary information.

It’s safe to assume that any legally protected act under EEO law also has a retaliation provision. Retaliation can take many forms but is generally considered to be “a tangible change in working conditions that produces a material employment disadvantage,” per the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This means retaliation can be anything from changing an employee’s work schedule to firing them and anywhere in between. Retaliation can even occur in cases where no evidence of discrimination is found, like in this case which was tried in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Avoiding Retaliation Legal Cases

Retaliation is one of the most common issues alleged by employees with over half of all EEOC complaints including allegations of retaliation. Due to this, training leaders in retaliation laws is of the utmost importance to avoid legal issues arising from ignorance. Understanding what constitutes retaliation will help supervisors and managers recognize when their actions could be considered retaliatory. In addition to training on retaliation, harassment training can also play a crucial role by enforcing an understanding of what constitutes harassment and avoiding discrimination claims in the first place.

Aside from training and education regarding retaliation and harassment laws, organizations can help prevent cases such as these from occurring by implementing policies for avoiding retaliation that involves not only the documentation of complaints but also multiple avenues for receiving employee complaints concerning discrimination and retaliation. Encouraging others to come forward with their complaints can help clear the air and give you the ability to address issues before they have time to grow into larger problems.

Another useful tip for preventing retaliation is creating a safe space for leaders to vent after receiving complaints of discrimination or harassment. This safe space gives these individuals the ability to speak with an unbiased person who isn’t involved with the issue. Allowing them to vent can help them return to work with a clear head and avoid retaliatory actions that could result in legal action down the road. Establishing policies and using transparency to ensure everyone is aware of their rights and the opportunities they have to express themselves will go a long way in avoiding future discrimination and retaliation issues.

For more business tips and legal advice, check out our blog. If you have any questions or are in need of legal aid, contact us to learn more about the services we provide.


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