Damaging Workplace Retaliation and What to Do if It Happens to You

Jan 31 2019

Since 2009, nearly half of all complaints filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allege retaliation. What is retaliation, and why are 44% to 48% of alleged workplace injustices related to retaliation? That is the subject of today’s Employee Rights Blog post.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to retaliate means to avenge, redress, or revenge. These are not the attributes we want our co-workers or managers to possess.  Unfortunately, more and more workers are finding that actions they intend to protect themselves or their co-workers are instead having unexpected consequences. From childhood, we are taught this sense of payback is unacceptable. So why as adults are so many people falling victim to workplace retaliation? The answer is as simple as the basic instinct to survive.

Most Americans need their jobs to survive. Simple math will tell you that, if a person works 40 hours a week from age 20 to age 65, they will have worked 90,360 hours. That’s the equivalent of working for over 10 years straight. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a quarter of Americans say that work is the Number One source of stress in their lives. Couple that with the fact that almost 80% of Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck, and what you have is American and Connecticut workers who are overworked, stressed out, and need their job to keep a roof over their heads.

Does this mean workplace retaliation is warranted? No. Just because retaliation might be a natural impulse does not mean it is acceptable.  Workplace retaliation is socially, morally, and legally wrong. Still, understanding the basic instinct that fosters retaliation may help us to combat it.

Typically, workplace retaliation starts with some perceived offense. Maybe a female employee feels as though her male counterpart is receiving higher compensation for equal work. Or maybe a transgender employee is being harassed by coworkers. To stop the perceived offense behavior, the victim complains to management. If the accused feels as though they have done nothing wrong, though, they may retaliate. Put on the defensive, people fall back on their basic survival instinct.

This threat of retaliation should not chill or dissuade an employee from complaining of workplace injustices. The effect of workplace silence is to diminish or even nullify federal and Connecticut laws that protect us from workplace discrimination and harassment. And failing to complain about workplace misconduct for fear of retaliation may also negatively affect an individual employee’s psychological wellbeing. (According to expert psychologists, this sort of “self-silencing” may be more harmful to workers’ psychological well-being than coming forward with their grievances.)

These are serious concerns. But if you’re being subjected to retaliation at work, these theoretical issues probably do not matter much.  You want to know what you can do now.  So here are some tips on what to do if you are facing workplace retaliation:

  • Take Notes. When you notice things at work deteriorating, document it. Keep a log for yourself of what is different at work. Maybe your performance review went down from the year before, or your bonus was far less than years past. Off color comments from management, however subtle, can be very helpful. Write things down.
  • Notify Human Resources. It is a mistake to believe you should not complain about retaliation. You may think, “Well, complaining got me into this mess in the first place!” But employers are only responsible for what they know or reasonably should know. If you do not tell them what is happening, they may not be responsible for fixing it or the damages associated with the harm it causes.
  • Stay on Your “A” Game. You have been a great employee your entire career. Do not stop now! This may be the most difficult thing to do when you are feeling down on yourself at work. But simple mistakes, policy violations, or performance mishaps while you are stressed out may give your employer valid and justifiable reason to terminate your employment. Maintain the same attributes that allowed you to climb the ladder of workplace success.
  • Talk with Your Doctor. If the situation at work is affecting your psychological wellbeing, call your doctor. Do not ignore the physical or emotional responses to workplace injustices.
  • Do Not Quit. Countless employees quit first and call a lawyer later. This may seriously affect, even prevent you, from any recovery. We understand the stress, pain, and emotions associated with retaliation at work. Before you quit, however, make an informed decision, understand your rights, and know the consequences of your actions.
  • Get a Lawyer. Consider the experienced workplace retaliation lawyers at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. This may be your first experience with employment law, but it is not ours. We will advise you on your rights and explain possible solutions to ease you through this process. Remember: you are spending over 90,000 hours at work during your lifetime. Let us help you through it.

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Damaging Workplace Retaliation and What to Do if It Happens to You

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