What are the signs of retaliation in the workplace?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw 76,000+ discrimination charges filed in the year 2018, with a majority of them stating that more than one-half of the cases were retaliation cases against the employer.

What exactly is workplace retaliation?

Any retaliatory action that is taken by an employer against the employees after they have filed a harassment or discrimination complaint is called a workplace retaliation.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw 76,000+ discrimination charges filed in the year 2018, with a majority of them stating that more than one-half of the cases were retaliation cases against the employer.

Types of workplace retaliation

Some of the common types of workplace retaliation employees should keep an eye out for include:

  • Hostility: Majority of employees who file complaints often witness verbal abuse by an employer or from the managerial group. The purpose of being hostile is to create a ruthless work environment for the employee.
  • Exclusion: Managers and employers may exclude the employee from work-related activities like meetings, training sessions and official functions to isolate that person.
  • Thwarting advancement: The employer may skip the employee from granting a deserving raise or promotion at work. The employer can give different reasons and block advancements which are forms of workplace retaliation. Thwarting advancement can also occur in the form of choosing a less-deserving employee for a promotion chance.
  • Post-employment retaliation: Retaliation also occurs when an employee looks forward to leaving the workplace and applies for a new employment opportunity. Still, the employer interferes and attempts to obstruct the new job by giving negative information to the new employer. Refusal for giving a reference is also a form of workplace retaliation.

What to do about Illegal Workplace Retaliation?

If an employee suspects that an employer is retaliating against them, they should first talk with the supervisor or an HR professional about the reasons and effects. If the employer can’t provide a legitimate explanation, it is essential to raise the concern about being retaliated. As the employer is most likely to deny the retaliation, the employee should point out that the adverse action occurred after filing a complaint against it.

If the employer isn’t willing to admit the retaliation wrongdoing, the employee needs to contact the EEOC or the employment lawyer to file a case against the employer. The retaliation complaint can be filed with the state human rights body, employment rights body EEOC or relations agencies. The employee can also take the employer to court.

An employee needs to verify three things on filing a workplace retaliation complaint or lawsuit:

  • The employee engaged in an adequately protected activity.
  • The employer took action against the employee.
  • There is a “causal link” between what the employee did and the employer’s action

 Is Retaliation Always Illegal?

Retaliation isn’t always illegal; it is illegal when the previous action of the retaliation is protected by law. This, however, can vary from country to country. It’s always illegal to retaliate against an employee for actions like sexual harassment, discrimination, and rigorous workplace activities. If an employee issues an unfounded complaint, the retaliation can be deemed legal, and it can be illegal. The critical issue, however, is that the employee should have a sincere belief about what they are reporting is illegal. Otherwise, proper retaliation is allowed.

How to Stop Retaliation?

Only by making a policy of “no retaliation” won’t work, it is essential to consider every situation carefully and look into the merits and demerits. Organizations should train the managers not to retaliate, and to report any complaints to HR. This will help the organization to ensure that no retaliatory decisions occur and the office can investigate all the potential allegations.

If an employee sues an organization and the office win on the facts, the organization can still lose on a reported retaliation case if the office treats the complainant poorly. As such, it is essential to evaluate the actions before and even consider discussing the right course path of action with an employment law attorney.

Diana Coker
Diana Coker
Diana Coker is a staff writer at The HR Digest, based in New York. She also reports for brands like Technowize. Diana covers HR news, corporate culture, employee benefits, compensation, and leadership. She loves writing HR success stories of individuals who inspire the world. She’s keen on political science and entertains her readers by covering usual workplace tactics.

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