Workplace retaliation can be defined as any negative step or measure that is taken by the employer, against an employee of the organization, for participating in an activity that is legally protected.
Various laws have been formulated by the government to protect employees against any kind of discrimination or harassment at the workplace. The same laws also protect the employees against retaliation.
Accordingly, an employer does not have the right to punish any of his employees for undertaking harassment or discrimination complaints. Also, an employer cannot stop an employee from being a part of workplace investigations.
The law protects the employees who participate in the EEOC investigations, or those who come forward as witnesses in the investigations as well.
Besides the federal law, there are certain state laws too which forbid employers from engaging in retaliation. Some of the examples are reduction in the salary, change in job profile, denial of training opportunities, demotion, or even firing.
Steps to Be Taken by Employees
If an employee suspects retaliation, the first thing that he should do is communicate about it to the HR personnel or his senior in the organization. If they fail to solve the issue or do not even admit that such a thing has happened, then the employee should get in touch with the EEOC or his state's employment agency which deals with such issues.
To build a case against the employer, an employee will need to show enough evidence to form a link between his own behavior and the resultant retaliatory action taken by the employer.
The employee has to prove three things, i.e he is only engaged in a legally permissible activity, there was a retaliatory negative action taken against him and that there was a definite link between the two, i.e., employee's activity and the employer's adverse action.
To prove the link, the employee should have evidence on the timing of the legally permissible conduct and the negative action, the lack of interest shown by the employer in the employee's complaint against workplace retaliation, and unequal treatment meted out to the employees who complained.
Having tangible evidence on all these factors such as emails or colleagues who agree to become witnesses, helps in building a strong case.
Steps to Be Taken by Employers
It is imperative that employers fully understand the rights of their employees. They should let the employees exercise all their rights without causing any kind of problem or creating a fear of retaliation.
If for some reason, employees are engaging in activities which are bothering the employer, he should not respond or take action against them immediately. Instead, he should contact a lawyer first and then decide upon his course of action.
Retaliation is actually an abuse of power by senior people in an organization. And like any abuse, it should be put to an end immediately, both for the organization's as well as the employee's long-term benefit.