What is Retaliation in the workplace?

Retaliation refers to a situation where an employee is falsely blamed for damaging or illegal behaviour after which he/she is subjected to disciplinary action by their supervisor. Retaliation in the workplace usually occurs when a powerful employee uses authority to harm a less-powerful employee’s career or professional growth, or even how that person is seen by upper management.

What are some examples of Retaliation?

Some examples of retaliation may include any negative employment action such as demotion, discipline, firing, salary decrease or shift in job/assignment. 

What are the signs of Retaliation at work?

The possible signs of retaliation are as follows:

1. Hostility

Hostility in the workplace is discriminatory in nature. There are several reasons for its occurrence, including retaliation. Hostility may be: 

a. Reprimanding the employee or providing a lower-than-expected performance evaluation; 

shaming the employee, especially in front of others; 

b. Excluding the employee from projects or meetings that have a bearing on their portfolio of work or over which they should have some say; 

c. Abusing someone emotionally, verbally, or physically; 

d. Surveillance that is both unfair and threatening; 

e. False rumours, slander, or defamation of the employee; 

f. Increasing the difficulty of the person's work (for example, punishing an employee by changing their work schedule to conflict with family or other known commitments).

2. Demotion

When an employee is not performing properly, a demotion may be necessary. It may, however, be retaliation if an employee is demoted without justification. A company should have a policy in place that explains when demotions are possible. 

3. Reduction in pay or loss of perks 

This may be accompanied by a demotion. It can also happen when a company is going through a period of financial difficulty or restructuring. Salary reductions, on the other hand, must be justified, and there should be a policy in place that explains why they are essential. Retaliation may be the reason if there is no justifiable justification or a consistently applied policy.

4. Reassignment

In and of itself, reassignment might be innocuous. It is, however, retaliation if an employee is moved to a different team or location for engaging in protected behaviour, regardless of whether the function or income remains the same. It's not so much about the decision as it is about why it was made. 

5. Termination

This is the most severe type of retaliation. 'Employment-at-will' allows employers to terminate an employee's employment relationship at any time, with or without cause. Employers must, however, be accountable for carrying out this agreement in order to safeguard the company from wrongful termination lawsuits.

How to prevent retaliation in the workplace? 

The greatest strategy to combat workplace retaliation is to prevent it in the first place. As an HR professional, you have a number of options. 

1. Create policies in writing 

Develop a documented anti-retaliation policy as well as rules for reporting and investigating retaliation. Employees must have access to the policy and standards. You could, for example, post them on the company's intranet, wiki, or employee handbook.

2. Provide instruction 

These policies and principles should be taught to all employees. Your staff should understand what workplace retribution is and why it occurs. They must also recognise that not all unfavourable or unpleasant situations are retaliation or workplace discrimination. 

Leadership and managers require extensive training in spotting and preventing workplace retribution, as well as legal duties and consequences, and addressing employee complaints. Inform the supervisors that all disciplinary meetings must be reported to HR. 

Employees in HR must be able to recognise and deal with retaliatory allegations. They should also be extremely explicit about the reporting and investigation procedures for these claims.

3. Create a retaliation inquiry mechanism for claims of workplace retribution. 

When reviewing retaliation accusations, your workplace retaliation investigation process should identify specific processes that your organisation and HR department routinely follow. That way, you can make sure you don't miss any steps along the road. 

4. Keep track of everything and file it away. 

This includes meeting details, accomplishments, recognition, and warnings. Unfortunately, many organisations have a tendency to document more of the negative than the positive. Positive behaviours, remarks, and accomplishments are equally as significant in deciding whether or not retaliation charges are real. 

It could be retribution if an employee who has been working well and has been acknowledged for it is suddenly defamed and demoted. That’s why consistently documenting your employees’ performance through a structured performance management process is essential.

Pay attention to any inconsistencies. A given employee, for example, may be receiving terrible performance assessments and unfavourable evaluations from one boss while being rated as a top worker by another. 

5. Maintain strict confidentiality 

When an employee meets with HR, ensure that the information they disclose is kept private. Assure the employee that they will not face any repercussions as a result of their complaint. Whistleblower protection should also be available at your company.

6. Encourage staff to speak up

If you want your employees to speak up when they believe they are being retaliated against or witness retaliation, leaders and HR must create a culture of trust. 

Also, did you know that employees frequently refuse to report misconduct they witness because they are afraid of retaliation? Building a culture of trust inside your company will not only empower employees to speak up, but it will also contribute to the development of a more ethical culture. 

7. Give HR the authority to make the proper decisions 

Employees in positions of authority and influence are frequently targeted for retaliation claims. As a result, HR must maintain objectivity and collaborate closely with the legal department and employment lawyers. When it comes to retaliation or discrimination accusations, the HR department needs some authority to make decisions.

Dismissal is one of the possible outcomes. Reprimands and low-performance ratings are common. Change jobs to a less attractive one.

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