How Businesses Can Avoid Workplace Retaliation

When an employer punishes an employee for exercising their rights, this is known as workplace retaliation. This punishment can be any action that may be construed as adverse and hinder an employee from pursuing legal action. Workplace retaliation can happen for a variety of reasons, but sexual harassment and racial accusations are two of the most common.

Workplace retaliation claim

However, even though it happens a lot, it’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a sexual harassment or a racial discrimination complaint. Retaliation charges are usually harder to drop than the original claim.

Businesses often find themselves walking into a retaliation complaint due to easily avoidable mistakes. This article will discuss a few ways to avoid workplace retaliation. Read on to learn more!

1. Written Policies

The company should have a written anti-retaliation policy that’s circulated. This policy would have guidelines on what retaliation is, how it’s reported, and how it’s investigated. This information should be circulated at least yearly, and discussed with all the new employees.

It’s the responsibility of the business to educate its staff on what type of action is included in retaliation claims. Examples of adverse actions includes:

  • Firing an employee
  • Demotion
  • Verbal abuse
  • Work-related threats
  • Creating a hostile work environment that pushes an employee to quit
  • Poor performance reviews
  • Unfavorable working hours
  • Transfer to undesirable departments
  • Social ostracism

It should be noted that, sometimes, retaliation may not be intended, but merely perceived.

2. Explain The Consequences

Retaliation claims have many negative consequences, toward the company itself and the individuals involved. Failure to properly handle such claims can negatively impact the reputation of the company, whilst the individual accused of the action could be subject to fines and termination of employment. All these factors must be clearly stated to all the employees.

3. Explain Protected Activities

Protected activity is the opposition to a practice believed to be unlawful discrimination or harassment. Witnesses to perceived discrimination and harassment are also protected under this banner, and must be treated accordingly.

It’s crucial to note that retaliation isn’t limited to supervisors and managers. If anyone in the workplace treats an employee who’s ‘protected’ in a retaliatory manner, they’re liable to legal action.

4. Treat Your Employees Consistently

Before making any decision that may negatively affect the employee, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this action consistent with past practice?
  • Can this action be considered an act of discrimination?

Basically, treat your employee as if discrimination had never been reported or opposed.

Workplace legality dynamics

5. Openness

It’s important to provide employees with a safe environment in which they can lodge their complaints. A company that adopts an open door policy will be able to handle retaliation claims more smoothly than a company that’s highly secretive. Open door policies also reduce gossip as facts are communicated more openly in such an environment

6. Investigate Promptly

An important preventative measure to avoid retaliation complaints is to engage in a thorough investigation of every employee complaint that comes through. Your employees need to know that their complaints are taken seriously and that all reports are given equal importance.

The investigation process should be transparent in order to instill confidence. If it’s seen that a policy violation has occurred, then the subsequent actions to be taken must adhere to the guidelines stipulated in the company policies and standard practices.

7. Train Middle And Upper Level Management

All middle and upper level managements need to understand how retaliation occurs and how to adhere to the businesses’ anti-retaliation policies. Managers must be guided on how to protect those who’ve been accused of misconduct and those who’ve done the accusing. Training on how to manage the interpersonal conduct must be done to avoid conflict from reaching unmanageable levels.

8. Document Everything

This refers to the minutes in meetings, achievements, and warnings. The HR (human resources) office should have all those pieces of information documented. This helps when a retaliation claim is lodged against an employer, files can be opened to assess whether the adverse action taken is an example of past practices or is, in fact, a retaliatory action against the employee.

The human resource department must be trained to spot ‘red flags’. Red flags are behavioral patterns that indicate instances of retaliation. Examples of red flags include, but aren’t limited to, increased supervision of certain employees, workers suddenly ostracized, and incorrect or biased performance reviews, among many others.


Ignorance isn’t a viable defense to a retaliation claim. Approximately half of all claims that go to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) are retaliation claims. This is a solid indication of their prevalence in the workplace. Avoiding workplace retaliation doesn’t only improve the reputation of your business.

A business that has effective anti-retaliation policies has been proven to be more functional and efficient, with higher rates of employee satisfaction.


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