Retaliation is a very common problem in all fields. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), retaliation is the most common issue that they investigate. Each year, there are roughly 17,000 retaliation complaints which make up over 40 percent of all EEOC cases. Retaliation is illegal because it counts as discrimination and violates whistleblower protections. Employers found guilty of retaliation may have to pay damages, reinstate the employee, or change their procedures to comply with the law.
Sexual harassment retaliation occurs whenever a person faces negative consequences due to their decision to report sexual harassment. Retaliation can be either personal or systemic. In some companies, anyone who reports sexual harassment may face retaliation from managers, HR workers, or other higher-ups who want to avoid highlighting problems at their company. This type of retaliation often takes on very obvious forms like job termination or promotion denial.
In other cases, retaliation may be from individual coworkers who are upset due to their relationship with the accused. Coworker retaliation can be more insidious, because it often comes in subtle forms like office bullying or exclusion from team building exercises. It is highly problematic because some unethical businesses may use retaliation to hide major harassment problems in their workplace.
What Are Common Types of Sexual Harassment Retaliation?
The most obvious form of harassment is terminating an employee’s job, but it can also occur in less noticeable ways. Here are some examples of common types of retaliation.
- Demoting an employee without cause
- Reducing an employee’s salary or bonuses
- Suddenly denying a scheduled raise or promotion
- Taking away perks like company cars or free lunches
- Reassigning the employee to a more challenging job
- Giving the employee a more unpleasant schedule
- Harassing the employee by micromanaging them
- Holding overly strict and negative performance reviews
- Providing the employee with inaccurate information to hinder their performance
- Excluding the employee from staff activities
- Declining the employee’s requested training activities
- Encouraging other staff to harass and bully the employee
- Refusing to cooperate or discuss work related matters with the employee
- Providing other coworkers with misleading information about the situation
How Is Sexual Harassment Retaliation Legally Proved?
In many states, a workplace that commits retaliation may face legal consequences and open themselves up to a retaliation lawsuit. To officially prove that a company or coworker is retaliating for sexual harassment claims, a case has to meet certain requirements. Understanding these requirements can help you understand what sexual harassment retaliation really is.
The first and simplest requirement is that an employee files a sexual harassment claim. In almost all cases, company records will provide proof of this statement. Whether or not the claim itself was ever proven is irrelevant.
Next, the employee will need to show that a negative employment action happened to them. Being fired is very straightforward to prove. It may be harder for employees to prove that other actions, like a boss transferring them to a night shift, were a negative experience.
Finally, an employee has to show that the negative employment action was directly linked to their complaint. This is usually the most challenging part. In some cases, timing may be enough to prove there is an association between the harassment claim and the harmful action. For example, an employee having their employment terminated right after a harassment claim might be proof of retaliation. In some cases, employees may also be able to provide witness statements, emails, or other documentation showing that they faced consequences for filing a harassment claim.
It is important to note that the validity of the harassment claim itself has little bearing on a lawsuit or EEOC investigation. Legally, companies should treat all claims seriously, investigating them and taking appropriate measures to stop harassment. Unless there is definitive proof that a worker was intentionally fabricating claims to harm other employees, a business should never penalize a worker for making a claim. Even if you think the claim was false, punishing the employee without proof can make it look like your company is harassing workers for filing claims.
How to Prevent Workplace Retaliation
Because sexual harassment retaliation is so serious, it is important for companies to be proactive. Managers and human resources departments need to carefully make sure that they follow all procedures after someone decides to file a complaint. Furthermore, any staff aware of the sexual harassment claim should treat their colleague with respect and professionalism despite any personal feelings they might have about the people involved in the claim. Managers will need to monitor the situation closely and halt any bullying or harassment that may occur following the claim.
Employers also need to think carefully before doing anything that could negatively affect the employee. It is possible to fire, demote, or cite a person for misbehavior following a sexual harassment claim. However, the employer should only do so for poor behavior entirely unrelated to the claim. To protect themselves, they would need to keep a detailed record of legitimate problems like misconduct, poor job performance, or other issues.
Having a clearly written anti-retaliation policy in place can reduce retaliation by making it clear that the company will not tolerate such conduct. Giving employees guidance on how to behave following a sexual harassment claim will help keep the environment professional. It may be a good idea to regularly check in with the claimant, the accused, and any witnesses during the period. This can allow employers to address potential problems before they turn into retaliation.
Preventing workplace retaliation requires all employers and managers to be fully aware of their state’s sexual harassment laws. It is important to know how to follow all EEOC regulations and prevent retaliation following a harassment claim. The right sexual harassment training can make it easier for all the employees at your company to feel respected. By staying informed on sexual harassment and retaliation laws, you can protect your business from retaliation claims.