Beyond Harassment: Preventing Retaliation in the Workplace


As a business owner, manager, or supervisor, you’ve probably already given a lot of thought to dealing with harassment in the workplace. But what about retaliation in the workplace? The same laws that protect employees from harassment and discrimination also protect them from retaliation.

What Is Retaliation?

Retaliation occurs when an employer or coworker takes adverse action against an employee who has filed a harassment complaint. Retaliatory actions can take many forms, including (but not limited to):

  • Unnecessary disciplinary actions.
  • Demotion.
  • Termination.
  • Reduction in salary or work hours.
  • Position transfer.
  • Refusal to hire.
  • Hostile behavior towards the employee.

Any action that would intimidate or deter an employee from initiating a complaint would also qualify as retaliation.

Who Do Retaliation Laws Apply To?

Retaliation laws apply to everyone and protect job applicants, employees, and witnesses to harassment or discrimination. Here are just a few examples of scenarios for which it would be illegal to retaliate against someone:

  • Reporting harassment or discrimination to a manager or supervisor.
  • Participating in an investigation of alleged harassment or discrimination.
  • Refusing to participate in actions that result in harassment.
  • Resisting sexual advances or intervening to protect someone else.
  • Requesting accommodation for a disability or religious practice.

Why Are Retaliation Laws Important to Managers?

It is important to understand what actions constitute retaliation in order to prevent it from occurring or avoid any action that could be misinterpreted as retaliation. Sometimes an action intended to help a victim or witness actually qualifies as illegal retaliation. For example: An employee has filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor. In order to protect the victim and limit their exposure to that supervisor, a manager may transfer them to another department or change their work schedule. This would be considered retaliation.

Managers also have an obligation to protect all their employees from illegal retaliatory behaviors that might take place between employees. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of what constitutes retaliation and keep an eye out for it should the situation arise.

Why Are Retaliation Laws Important to Employees?

Every employee deserves to work in a comfortable environment where they feel safe to report harassment in any form. Your organization’s corporate culture should be designed to create that safe space for employees, because honest and open reporting helps the company stop harassing behavior before it escalates into a larger problem.

How Can I Prevent Retaliation?

Here are just a few steps to take in order to prevent retaliation related to harassment complaints:

Harassment training: Providing your employees with online harassment training will increase awareness of their actions and help decrease harassment complaints, thus lowering the risk for retaliation

Establish & communicate policies: Your organization should have policies in place to prevent harassment and retaliation. Make sure those policies clearly outline what retaliation is and establish a strict policy prohibiting harassment and retaliation.

Maintain confidentiality: When you receive a complaint, try to keep the circle of people with knowledge of the complaint as small as possible.

Document: Once a complaint has been filed, make sure you’re documenting all steps taken and all interaction with the employee and others involved. This protects the integrity of the investigation and protects you as the investigator if any of the findings are questioned down the line.

Harassment Prevention Training

The first step to preventing retaliation is preventing harassment in the first place. Train your employees in what harassment looks like, how to report it, and how to intervene when appropriate. The more information employees have, the more empowered they will be. Preview our online Harassment Prevention course below and click here to find out if your state requires customized harassment training.

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