Every employer in America has to understand retaliation and how to prevent it. Federal laws protect workers from discrimination, harassment, and sexual advances. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides the framework for a healthy work environment and gives employees the right to report violations. Employees have “protected activities” that allow them to assist in an EEO investigation, file a complaint with human resources (or with a superior), and even participate in a lawsuit against their company without the fear of retribution.
The following are examples of retaliation:
- Demoting an employee, paying them less, or terminating their employment
- Giving them less-desirable hours
- Excluding them from meetings they used to be a part of
- Making threats
- Being verbally (or physically) abusive
Protecting Your Employees & Your Business
Set your expectations and reinforce policy through compliance training at regular intervals. It begins with the employee handbook that details your position against retaliation, what retaliatory behavior looks like, and the procedure the employee should follow to report it. When an employee files a complaint, your handbook can identify any actions the company will take.
- Who receives the complaint?
- How will the company handle the complaint responsibly, discreetly, and confidentially
- What interviews will be conducted
- The procedures for investigating complaints
- How the results of the investigation will be shared (and with whom)
Inspecting What You Expect
As leaders and business owners, you understand that management must not take out frustrations on an employee, and they should be the example. Even though these should be considered prerequisites for any leadership position, they must be reinforced. Training should be conducted annually and after any new policy is updated or introduced. Don’t take shortcuts and assume that preventing retaliation is common sense. Though you may trust your leadership team not to mistreat an employee due to their gender, race, orientation, or religion, many (seemingly) benign situations can develop into ones that lead to litigation.
Think of a situation where there is an opening on the leadership team, and you choose to promote from within. After announcing your selection, an employee files a complaint saying they were overlooked because of their gender or race. Though you are confident that your internal investigation will not uncover any wrongdoing, that doesn’t mean someone won’t retaliate because they are angry about being accused. The person who filed the complaint starts getting more assignments than they are accustomed to, is expected to deliver on an abbreviated timeline, and the person’s direct report starts documenting how the employee falls behind because of excessive workload. Although the original complaint didn’t have any merit, the situation has escalated to where the employee could file an additional one based on retaliation.
Protect Yourself with Legal Counsel
There are countless instances when an employee should be reprimanded, demoted, or terminated. Not only should you be ruthless with documenting your company’s response to a filed complaint, but you also need to do this to support your decisions. The threat of litigation can be mitigated as opposed to outright eliminated. Choose to work alongside legal counsel, who has a command of the state and federal regulations that apply to your business. You will learn what to document and how to do it appropriately so your lawyers have what they need to protect you.
When you work with Beckemeier LeMoine Law, we will navigate and advise you through every stage of the litigation process—from the moment you are served to the day you have to appear in court. Contact our office today to schedule your consultation.