Have you felt professionally stymied after years of service? Do you experience grief from working, living, and going about their day-to-day tasks? Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer or coworker punishes an employee for engaging in lawful acts or other legally-protected activity. This could be any situation from sexist or racist discrimination to cutting the hours of a whistleblowing employee. Those who have experienced workplace retaliation understand the importance of speaking up for oneself and feeling safe in the workplace, at the same time dealing with pain and blow-back just trying to work in a peaceful environment.
Retaliation occurs when an employer or managing worker punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity. Retaliation can be as blunt as up-front discrimination. Retaliation can include any negatively-perceived action or hardship, from firing and disciplinary action to pay decreases or workplace reassignment. Retaliation is established once the employer or manager’s action causes undue hardship or prevents a person from making a professional complaint as outlined in by organizational, local, state, or federal law.
Federal law protects both whistle-blowers and regular employees from retaliation about workplace discrimination or harassment. That’s true even if the discrimination claim turns out to be unsupported, as long as the complaint was made in good faith (for example, the employee saw discrimination in a pay decrease when everyone on the team received the same pay decrease). The law also protects witnesses (other employees who cooperate in any investigations).
Signs of Retaliation
Retaliation can fall into several gray areas. For example, if you complain about a manager’s sexist comments or abusive behavior and their attitude or friendliness changes, this may not be enough to constitute harassment. In fact, complaining may mean that the manager has learned a lesson and will act more professionally in the workplace. If you received a bad review and your supervisor is more closely-watching your workflow, this may not be retaliatory. If the basis of your job duties, pay rate, or state of employment has changed, these differences may be retaliatory. Consult an attorney to establishes retaliation.
First Steps Against Retaliation
The first steps to managing employment retaliation is to accumulate documentation. To reinforce your case, build a paper trail of proof. Workplace retaliation is often a product of an unhealthy work environment or corporate culture, and your co-workers may fear testifying or helping to avoid their own retaliation. If you can, take statements from co-workers about their experiences. These statements should be relevant examples of you being retaliated against, logged with the date and time.
Speak Up Against Bad Behaviors
Speak with a supervisor or a representative from your human resources department if you suspect retaliation. Provide copies of your statements and logged concerns, and ask specific questions. Be open to listening to your employer, who may have a reason for the change in your work. If your employer can’t provide a legitimate explanation, point out that the negative action took place only after the engagement in legally-protected activity, and ask that it stop immediately.
File A Complaint
If your employer denies any wrongdoing or refuses to provide solutions to correct any staffing or workplace problems, you may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state or local agencies.
Contact an Employment Attorney
If you suspect retaliation, went to human resources or a supervisor, and still your employer won’t correct the problem, your documentation becomes even more important. To prove your case, you and your legal team will need to draw a line of action between initial behavior to any likewise retaliatory behaviors. The more evidence you have gathered in support of your claim, the better. Your legal team can ask for depositions and use evidence from the workplace (previous job reports, progress updates, documents, emails, etc) to prove your previous state of work.
Preventing Retaliatory Practices
Oftentimes, unintentional bias can color people’s experience. To prevent claims of retaliation in the workplace, the key is equilateral policy and respect, both of the law and of each other. To avoid the possibility of future retaliation, make company policies are followed and transgressors are fairly treated by the system. An employment attorney can help clarify or define retaliation codes or policies already in place. The policy should define retaliation and set forth a process for reporting and investigating complaints in an unbiased and serious way. If the complaint has any basis in fact, focus on maintaining best practices in the workplace.
Maintaining a process that records and documents employee conduct can solve a lot of retaliatory problems, from sudden issues to long-standing complaints, by focusing on rewarding positive action and punishing negative behaviors, following local, state, and federal laws against retaliation.