Elizabeth Bille

What is the number one workplace misconduct claim filed with the EEOC? Is it sexual harassment? Race discrimination? 

Workplace Retaliation

 According to the EEOC, 54% of all charges filed last year with the agency involved workplace retaliation. It is 1.6 times more common than the next most common claim filed (last year, disability). And, workplace retaliation has been the #1 complaint filed with the EEOC every year for the past decade. 

Workplace retaliation could very well be the next #MeToo-type issue that takes the workplace by storm. Like sexual harassment, it is alarmingly common but it is not on many organizations’ radar screens. Most organizations are not taking proactive steps to prevent workplace retaliation from happening or strengthening their anti-retaliation policy. 

 Aside from the fact that workplace retaliation is illegal in its own right, retaliation is really damaging to our anti-harassment efforts in two key ways: first, it significantly impacts the likelihood that people will come forward and report concerns. If our hope is to prevent harassment from occurring, we need employees to come forward as soon as they see the warning signs, when the behavior is still relatively minor. This enables organizations to address it before it escalates into full-blown, illegal harassment. The second reason workplace retaliation is harmful to our anti-harassment efforts is if employees don’t report harassment due to fears of retaliation, those employees who engage in harassment will continue to do so, believing that there won’t be consequences for their actions. Retaliation harms your efforts in areas other than just harassment, too.

Signs of Retaliation at Work

  • You’re reassigned to a different shift or department
  • You’re passed over for a promotion or raise
  • Your pay or hours are cut

“But we have a non-retaliation policy!” you might be saying. A policy is not enough. Many companies with anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies may still have a culture that fosters these unacceptable behaviors. 

Activate Your Workforce to Prevent Harassment

Educate your employees on strategies to intervene when they see inappropriate behavior at work.

To mitigate workplace retaliation, we need to plan ahead. This is because you don’t have a lot of time after a complaint has been made before workplace retaliation tends to occur. In fact, according to the Ethics and Compliance Initiative, 72% of employees who experienced workplace retaliation said that the retaliation happened within THREE weeks’ time. 40% occurred within the first week!

Because we have so little time after a report is filed, what actions should organizations take now to be prepared and to prevent workplace retaliation from occurring later? I would recommend creating and implementing an anti-retaliation plan now so you and your organization will be ready.

4 Key Points of Implementing an Anti-Retaliation Plan

Anti-Retaliation Plan
  1. Training. This is something that can and should be deployed as soon as possible to ensure an inclusive workplace. It is important to train all employees — especially your supervisors and leaders — on WHAT workplace retaliation is and how to prevent it. While many supervisors may know that firing an employee because they filed a complaint is a problem, they may not realize that downgrading the employee’s performance rating or removing a flexible work schedule because they feel the employee is no longer “a team player” is likely workplace retaliation as well. 
  2. Include an action item that as soon as a report of workplace misconduct is filed, HR will have a serious conversation with both the reporter’s supervisor and the accused (if different than their supervisor) about their non-retaliation obligations and the penalties for violation. Also, provide them with strategies for positive interactions with that person – and for the supervisor, how to manage that employee fairly post-complaint.  
  3. Monitor the reporter’s and witnesses’ situations. Have them keep an eye out for any changes that leaders want to make to performance ratings, work schedule, or employment status before they are finalized/communicated to safeguard against workplace retaliation.
  4. Designate an Investigator to keep touching base with the reporter or witnesses to see how things are going, and if they hear concerns — hopefully while still small — they can be quickly addressed before they escalate into full-blown retaliation.

By strengthening your training efforts well in advance, with actions that can be deployed both year round and immediately following a report, you can stem the tide of retaliation at work and greatly enhance your anti-harassment efforts.

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