Understanding the retaliation definition can help top management in a company avoid violations of this nature. Human resources managers, supervisors, and other staff need to be aware of the specifics of workplace retaliation so that this doesn’t become a problem in the office.
When employees report an incident to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or are involved in an investigation with them, they cannot be subject to any forms of workplace retaliation. Everyone in the company should know the retaliation definition to help reduce misunderstandings on the topic. Additionally, preventative measures can be put in place to avoid these issues.
What Is Retaliation in the Workplace?
You may be wondering, what does retaliation mean? This is a term that is specific to workplace retaliation. It consists of a manager or other employer retaliating against another employee because of their involvement in a “protected action.”
What is a protected action? Of course, not everything is protected. Suppose an employee is underperforming or has done something against company policy. In that case, a manager has a right to act, possibly demoting or disciplining the employee. If the employee files a complaint about this, their action would not be protected. However, if the employee engages in a protected action, such as reporting discrimination or sexual harassment, and the employer retaliates against them, that is illegal.
A protected action involves an employee reporting any wrongdoing to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or upper management. The federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by this entity prohibit retaliation.
What Actions Are Protected From Retaliation in the Workplace?
Some of the specific actions an employee may take that are protected from retaliation include:
• Filing a discrimination charge based on any protected category, such as race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information
• Filing a harassment charge based on a protected category, as mentioned above
• Complaining to the employer or other entity about discrimination or harassment
• Testifying in an investigation or lawsuit related to employment discrimination
• Reporting sexual harassment
• Asking for disability accommodations
• Reporting being asked to participate in discriminating against other coworkers
• Reporting unsafe working conditions or OSHA violations
Workplace retaliation laws also apply to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Pay Act (EPA). So, any employee that reports on violations in these areas is protected from retaliation, too.
What Actions Are Retaliation?
Actions that fall into the category of retaliation in the workplace may be overt or subtle. Both are prohibited and may be grounds for disciplinary action.
Overt actions may include the following:
• Hindering the employee from participating in meetings or other events
• Keeping the employee from getting a raise
• Hindering the employee from a promotion
• Demoting the employee to a lower-paying position
• Reducing the number of hours that the employee receives for work
• Giving the employee a negative performance review
• Moving the person to an unfavorable department or location
• Making the employee’s work environment uncomfortable in some way
Subtle actions that may be classified as retaliatory are:
• Exclusion from activities that may be more personal in nature. For example, company picnics, employee birthday celebrations, coworker lunches, etc.
• Ignoring the employee in an obvious manner. For example, as soon as the person walks into the room, the manager walks out or talks in a whispered voice, making it obvious that they don’t want to include the other person.
• Extreme micromanagement of the employee.
• Creating a toxic environment for the employee.
• Being overly critical (especially if the manager was previously not this way).
Employees are always protected from retaliation whether their claim turns out to be true or not if they honestly believe it to be true. However, the employee must show a direct connection between the action and the retaliatory behavior.
Take Action to Prevent Retaliation in the Workplace
The best way to prevent retaliation in the workplace is to be proactive. Preventative steps by the management can keep the workplace operating smoothly and ensure leaders are following proper protocols. The following action steps help ensure that retaliation in the office doesn’t become an issue:
Put Guidelines in Place
Company leadership must have written policies that guide management, human resources, and employees about workplace retaliation. You can put these policies and rules in the company handbook, so everyone has easy access to them. Make sure they clarify the EEOC, anti-harassment, and anti-discrimination laws.
Hold Training Sessions
Once your written policy guidelines are in place, bring the staff together for a training session to review the information. Make sure they understand what retaliation in the workplace is, allowing employees to ask questions if they’re unsure about the information.
When new candidates are hired, make the training part of their onboarding experience.
Establish Procedures for Employees Who Have a Complaint
Employees should know what to do if they have experienced retaliation from someone in management. The company handbook and training should outline the steps they should take if they feel any of their rights have been violated. For example, they believe they were denied a promotion due to anti-discrimination laws, etc. Sometimes it can be easily established that discrimination was not the reason for being bypassed for promotion. When employees feel there is transparency and protocols for addressing these issues, you’ll have less stress.
Make Sure the Management Documents All Discipline Issues
Whenever an employee must be disciplined (which will happen from time to time), be sure the manager or supervisor in charge documents it thoroughly, providing the reasoning behind the discipline.
Have Regular Meetings with HR to Review Disciplinary Action
Before management writes someone up or disciplines them, it’s important to meet with human resources first to discuss the situation. Human resources can advise the supervisor about whether they are within their rights to take disciplinary action.
Also, everything will be documented with another party, showing they had a valid reason for the action, and they’re protected legally.