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RegSenseDiscriminationTrainingRetaliationSupervisor trainingTraining & DevelopmentAgency PublicationCompliance DocsHR ManagementFocus AreaHuman Resources
Making supervisors aware of the dangers of retaliation
When an employee complains that he or she is the victim of harassment or discrimination, it triggers a right for that employee to be protected from retaliation for making the complaint. Where such cases have gone to court, many juries have awarded thousands, even millions of dollars to individuals who were retaliated against by their employers for making such a complaint.
What is retaliation?
Retaliation consists of a negative employment action against an employee because he or she engaged in a legally protected activity. This activity can include such things as:
- Complaining about discrimination
- Filing an OSHA complaint
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Complaining about unequal pay
- Alerting authorities to unethical business practices
- Serving on a jury.
Retaliation is prohibited by a number of employment laws. Where it is not specifically prohibited by law, it is generally held to be against “public policy” to take a negative employment action against an employee who, for example, files for workers’ compensation or takes time off from work to serve on a jury.
Types of retaliation
Retaliation can take a number of forms. It can be a direct employment action such as:
- Undesirable transfer
- Material change in job duties or conditions of employment.
Retaliation can also take the form of harassment by coworkers, creating a “hostile work environment” that makes it more difficult for an employee to do his or her work. It is not uncommon for coworkers to harass an employee for, as they see it, “getting another employee into trouble.” However, companies have been found liable for not preventing this type of retaliation as well.
Supervisors must watch out for this type of behavior and take measures to stop it. Enforce your policies against harassment, and discipline the harassing coworkers if warranted.
Best practices to avoid retaliation
When an employee formally complains of discrimination, sexual harassment, or unethical business practices, it can create tension in the workplace. The employee’s supervisor must not to treat the employee differently than before he or she complained.
Be wary of making any substantial change in the employee’s job (especially when the change affects ONLY that employee and no others), so that it doesn’t look like retaliation. This isn’t to say that you can’t discipline the employee if he or she does something that warrants it, but be sure the reason for the discipline is well-documented.
As much as you may not agree with what the employee has done, by law it is the employee’s right to complain, and also his right not to be retaliated against for asserting that right. It is undoubtedly a difficult situation, but a supervisor's responsibility is to uphold the law as it pertains to the workplace, and to make sure everyone plays by the rules.
If an employee engages in a legally protected activity:
- Don’t retaliate against the employee by terminating, demoting, or negatively changing his or her job duties.
- If you must change the employee’s job duties in a way that looks undesirable, document your objective reasons for doing so. It looks more objective if that employee is not the only one affected by the change.
- Watch for retaliation against an employee from coworkers. It could create an illegal hostile work environment.
- Be careful about treating the employee differently, or making any substantial changes in an employee’s working conditions, so that it doesn’t look like retaliation.
- Enforce your disciplinary policies against harassment.
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['Supervisor training', 'Retaliation']
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