Understanding Workplace Retaliation
One of the most widespread and persistent workplace problems today is one that most organizations aren’t even thinking about: retaliation.
Although issues like sexual harassment and racial bias make headlines (and deservedly so), workplace retaliation is actually the most common claim of workplace discrimination by far, and has been for the past decade. The EEOC receives five times more charges of workplace retaliation than sexual harassment—more than all race, color, and religion-based discrimination charges combined.
COVID-19 has further exacerbated this trend: a new survey found that more than 1 in 8 workers believe they’ve experienced possible workplace retaliation for expressing concerns about health and safety during the pandemic.
Recognizing Workplace Retaliation
Retaliation in the workplace can take many forms. And while not every negative workplace action following a complaint may be illegal (depending on applicable law), even the perception of workplace retaliation can lead to additional complaints, legal actions, decreased morale, and damaged workplace culture.
Unfortunately, many organizations are unaware of actions that are potentially risky.
Employees and lawmakers often take a broad view of workplace retaliation, but organizations tend to view retaliatory actions more narrowly, focusing on egregious acts like termination. In a recent survey, 80% of respondents say their organization would consider it retaliatory, hostile treatment (78%), discipline (75%), and demotion (74%). Many HR professionals said their organizations were less likely to consider changes in benefits (57%), work location (64%), or duties/work schedule (65%) to be potentially retaliatory, even though the EEOC and U.S. Supreme Court have stated that they could be.
Taking Steps to Prevent Workplace Retaliation
It is clear that retaliation is not a force outside of an employer’s control, nor can it be prevented by simply saying “don’t do it.” It’s a risk to workplace culture that must be proactively addressed through policies, procedures, training, and enforcement. It requires coaching and training to ensure all employees understand its causes, effects, and warning signs of workplace retaliations.
By shining a spotlight on this widespread issue and taking simple, yet meaningful actions now, our organizations can turn the tide on the devastating problem of retaliation in the workplace.