Retaliation in the workplace refers to adverse actions that an employer takes against an employee for engaging in protected activity. Protected activities include reporting discrimination or harassment, filing a safety complaint, or participating in a wage and hour investigation. When an employer responds to this behavior negatively – whether through demotion, pay cuts, or termination – this is retaliation and is illegal. It’s extremely important for business owners to understand what retaliation is, why it’s so damaging, and how to avoid it.
Why is Workplace Retaliation Illegal?
Workplace retaliation is illegal because it discourages employees from exercising their rights. If employees feared retaliation when reporting illegal activity in the workplace such as discrimination, they would never report it. Employees need to feel safe and encouraged to report illegal behavior, instead of being fearful for their jobs. For business owners, this makes it more difficult to identify problematic and illegal behavior in the workplace and remedy it.
What are the Consequences of Workplace Retaliation?
Employers and employees are both affected by retaliation. Employees are the victims in the situation, who are simply trying to follow the law and are punished for it. If an employee gets fired for reporting sexual harassment, for example, they can suffer extreme financial hardship. It can also make it difficult to continue building their career and can lead to emotional distress such as depression.
Employers also suffer consequences from retaliation, such as being sued. If an employee proves they were retaliated against, their employer will be subject to fines and other penalties. It can also damage your business’ reputation.
Employees who believe they have experienced retaliation should report it to their supervisor, human resources department, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They can also consult with a workplace retaliation lawyer for help navigating their claim.
How Can Small Business Owners Prevent Workplace Retaliation?
There are a number of ways that small business owners can prevent retaliation in the workplace.
For one, just being aware of the different forms of retaliation is important. Not every case of retaliation is obvious – changing project assignments or excluding someone from a meeting can also be retaliation. It’s imperative that business owners have a clear and written anti-retaliation policy and fully understand what it means.
Managers and supervisors need to be properly trained on what retaliation is and how to prevent it. This will help trickle down into the company culture, creating an environment that encourages open communication.
If someone does complain of retaliation, that report should be investigated promptly and thoroughly. If an employee is found to have retaliated against another employee, disciplinary action should be taken against them.
Resources for Small Business Owners
There are many places where business owners can find more information on retaliation.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The EEOC is the federal entity that oversees employment laws, and it provides detailed information about retaliation enforcement.
Small Business Administration: The SBA provides many helpful resources for small business owners, such as a guide to whistleblower retaliation.
National Labor Relations Board: The NLRB also provides best practices for preventing and addressing retaliation in the workplace.
Upholding the Law
Workplace retaliation is a serious issue that can have consequences for both employers and employees. Small business owners can take steps to prevent retaliation by having a clear anti-retaliation policy, training their managers on how to prevent retaliation, creating a culture of open communication, and investigating all complaints of retaliation promptly and thoroughly. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against should report the incident to their supervisor or human resources department or file a complaint with the EEOC.
Sharon Feldman is a writer based in San Diego, California with a focus on employee rights and workplace topics. When not writing, she can be found on the beach with her dog Noodles. Twitter.