EVERFI, Inc., the leading social impact education innovator, released the findings of a new survey revealing that many employers do not have adequate protections in place to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers. Survey data also reveals that organizations that do prioritize and take proactive steps to prevent retaliation report far fewer incidents.

Retaliation is the most common claim of workplace discrimination by far and has been for the past decade. In 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received five times more charges of retaliation than sexual harassment–more than all race, color, and religion-based discrimination charges combined.

This research conducted by HR.com’s HR Research Institute, in partnership with EVERFI, examined why workplace retaliation occurs, who tends to experience it (and perpetuate it), and what steps can be taken to help effectively prevent it. 

The survey shows that many employers are unaware of actions that are potentially risky. Organizations view retaliatory actions narrowly, focusing on egregious acts like termination (80 percent of respondents say their organization would consider it retaliatory), hostile treatment (78 percent), discipline (75 percent), and demotion (74 percent). Fewer organizations consider changes in benefits (57 percent), work location (64 percent), or duties/work schedule (65 percent) to be potentially retaliatory, even though the EEOC and U.S. Supreme Court have stated that they could be.

The research also found that many organizations do not have procedures in place to prevent retaliation and safeguard employees after they come forward. Among the survey’s key findings:

  • Almost one-third of companies surveyed do not have an anti-retaliation policy. 
  • Only 43 percent of employers with an anti-retaliation policy train all employees on that policy.
  • Only half of organizations (52 percent) check-in with whistleblowers to confirm that they are not experiencing retaliation, and just 19 percent designate someone to monitor an employee’s performance reviews to safeguard against retaliatory ratings. 
  • Nearly one-fifth (17 percent) don’t take any such steps to protect whistleblowers post-complaint. 

“The findings from this survey are a wake-up call for employers,” said Elizabeth Bille, J.D., SHRM-SCP, senior vice president, Workplace Culture, EVERFI. “Retaliation can lead to significant legal claims, decreased employee morale and retention, and damaged workplace cultures, so the stakes are high to get this work right. Unfortunately, our findings show that many organizations are not taking straightforward, proactive steps to prevent it from happening.” 

Retaliation can happen to anyone, but some employees are more susceptible than others. The majority of responding HR professionals indicated that low-performing employees (63 percent) and women (62 percent) are sometimes or often the targets of retaliation, compared to high-performing employees (36 percent) and men (47 percent). 

While employers often think retaliation is committed primarily by managers against their direct reports, this is often not the case. Nearly half of respondents (46 percent) say the person retaliating is sometimes or often another leader in the complainant’s chain of command, 35 percent say it is a leader outside of their chain of command, and 51 percent say it is a peer-level colleague. 

Additionally, the survey found that the most common reasons for retaliation are personal feelings of anger, embarrassment, hurt, or betrayal (61 percent) and viewing the person as disloyal, a troublemaker, or not a team player (59 percent). Far less common is the belief that the complaint was knowingly false or made with bad intent (28 percent). 

“Retaliation in the workplace is a silent crisis, and indeed, could be the next #MeToo-type issue to take the workplace by storm: it is alarmingly common, can cause significant damage, and is not on most organizations’ radar,” said Bille. “It undermines an employer’s progress on all workplace issues, from diversity and inclusion to legal compliance and mental wellness. Any organization that is working to create a healthy, inclusive, ethical working environment needs to take action to prevent retaliation.”

The survey did yield a positive revelation, indicating that prioritizing anti-retaliation efforts and implementing some straightforward procedures can pay dividends. Companies that actively communicate their anti-retaliation policies to all employees through training and communications from senior leaders are far less likely to say that retaliation occurs sometimes or often (35 percent) than those who take a more “check the box” communication approach, sharing via a handbook or website (65 percent).  

To learn how EVERFI can help you prevent retaliation from impacting your workplace, visit our website.

About the Preventing Retaliation in the Workplace Study

The survey was conducted online from May 1, 2020, through August 9, 2020, among HR professionals invited to take the survey through HR.com’s opt-in contact list. The survey was completed by 528 respondents, the majority of whom are human resources practitioners. View the full white paper of the survey results here

About EVERFI

EVERFI is an international technology company driving social change through education to address the most challenging issues affecting society ranging from financial wellness to prescription drug safety to workplace conduct and other critical topics. Founded in 2008, EVERFI is fueled by its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) community engagement platform and has reached more than 41 million learners globally. In 2020, the company was recognized as one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company and was featured on Fortune Magazine’s Impact 20 list. Some of America’s leading CEOs and venture capital firms are EVERFI investors including Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter founder Evan Williams, as well as Advance, Rethink Education, Rethink Impact, The Rise Fund, and TPG Growth. To learn more about EVERFI and how you can #answerthecall please visit everfi.com or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter @EVERFI.

Media Contact:

Jennifer Edgerly

EVERFI

202-871-3637

jedgerly@everfi.com