Last time in this series, we provided you with an overview of protected activities and workplace retaliation. I strongly suggest checking out part one before moving on, but if you choose not to…well, it’s your journey and I respect that. Today we will be talking about how to identify retaliatory actions, how to prevent retaliation, and what you can do if you fall victim to retaliation in the workplace. Let’s begin.
Examples of Retaliation
Retaliation may take many forms, but there several telltale signs that either you or a coworker is being retaliated against. Remember, retaliation takes place only after an employer or another employee has taken action against an individual who has already filed a complaint that is protected by Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. The first and perhaps most common sign of retaliation is hostility in the workplace that is directed at a specific individual. Retaliation in the form of hostility may include but is not limited to:
- purposefully creating a work environment that is difficult (eg: enlisting the employee in “impossible tasks”, needlessly scrutinizing them or leaving them out of important meetings or projects);
- unnecessary and extreme disciplinary actions;
- verbally or physically attacking an employee, or spreading rumors about them, and
- purposefully giving a performance review that is negative or damaging to the employee.
Other, more extreme examples of retaliation may be:
- unjustified demotion by a supervisor or manager;
- salary reduction;
- termination of employment, and
- post-employment retaliation (we’ll come back to this one a bit later).
Preventing retaliation is all about being properly educated. As an employee, that means carefully reading your employee handbook or other resources such as the EEO Commission’s official website. Ask your Human Resources representative if your organization offers any materials with regards to its anti-retaliation policies, or if the organization provides training related to such policies.
The Human Resources department will typically keep its own records of various instances that take place within the organization, and so should you. In fact, you should keep records about almost anything that happens while you are an employee at any organization as a means of future protection. For example, your achievements can be used as leverage during your review, while your record of being witness to employee harassment or discrimination can prove useful in an employer approved investigation.
Perhaps the most important way in which we can prevent workplace retaliation is by transparency and accountability in the Human Resources department. Human Resources should remain objective and free of any form of corruption. This includes negative influence from leadership within the organization that wants to use Human Resources as a tool to eliminate perceived threats or “problems.” If you are a Human Resources representative, this starts with you – you can be the force for positive change and for preserving a harassment-free and discrimination-free workplace.
Dealing with Retaliation
Here’s hoping that no one ever has to be in this spot. If you find yourself being the victim of workplace retaliation, you’ll first need to provide proof in order to make a claim. The required proof consists of three key components:
- you have engaged in EEO law protected activity;
- you have been retaliated against for engaging in said EEO law protected activity, and
- the retaliatory action was in direct response to the EEO law protected activity.
The next step is reporting the retaliatory action to your direct supervisor or manager, or to the Human Resources department. In most cases, there should be policies in place that can protect you from workplace retaliation; however, since we are exploring the dark side of all of this, let’s assume this hypothetical Human Resources department is crooked and instead of helping you, it goes along with the retaliatory action. It is at this juncture that you’ll want to speak to an attorney, as workplace retaliation is illegal. Here is a link to the EEO Commission’s resources about retaliation.
There is one more thing. If you are the victim of post-employment retaliation, this is another scenario where you should speak to an attorney. Post-employment retaliation typically comes in the form of slander from a previous employer. It is illegal for previous employers to make negative statements about its ex-employees when a hiring manager calls them to check out a new applicant. If this happens, you have the grounds for a retaliation claim.
That was some serious stuff! Yes friends, these things can happen to the best of us. That said, these extreme situations rarely take place and this entire exercise is meant to educate you on your rights; or at least, show you that being educated about your rights is very important. It is true that when you know your rights as an employee, you can rest easy knowing you’re protected as long as you do the right thing.
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