For Employees: How to Deal With Workplace Issues and Prepare for Retaliation

FEATURED IMAGE | Source: Quinn Dombrowski, Stop Workplace BullyingCC BY-SA 2.0

Have you checked out our latest survey results? Forty-one percent of surveyed tech workers claim that either management or HR retaliated after reporting an incident. The data suggests that retaliation is a problem in today’s workplaces. Statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggest the same. In fiscal year 2017, the agency received 84,254 charges of workplace discrimination. Retaliation was the number one charge with 41,097 cases, nearly half of the total charges the EEOC received that year.

What Is Company Retaliation?

Company retaliation is when an employer takes improper action against an employee after he or she has engaged in a protected activity. Examples of protected activities include, acting as a witness in an investigation, reporting a harassment case, or refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination.

Common retaliation moves include:

• Letting an employee go

• Refusing a promotion or raise

• Demoting an employee or asking the employee to perform low-level tasks

• Transferring an employee

• Evaluating an employee more harshly during a performance review

• Excluding an employee from meetings or team decisions

• Creating an uncomfortable or hostile work environment for an employee

If you’re a victim of harassment, experience discrimination, or witness unethical business practices and you feel that you can’t turn your back on the problem, there are options you can take to address the issue. Before you go report the incident, know that you may experience adverse consequences, such as losing your job. If you feel strongly that a problem needs to be addressed, don’t let the possibility of retaliation deter you from speaking up but do take steps to prepare for any backlash.

The Options

Listed below are some options you can consider to handle a workplace problem. Which option you choose will depend on how much attention you want to raise and what you’re willing to risk.

• Resolve the issue independently with the people involved. In most cases, this should be the first course of action before speaking with management. This option is best if you want to keep the problem on the down-low and you want to minimize the risk of retaliation.

• If the people involved are unwilling to resolve the issue with you, or if you feel uncomfortable dealing with the other party on your own due to aggressive or inappropriate behavior, then you can opt to involve a supervisor. Confide in a trusted supervisor to lower the risk of retaliation.

• If your supervisor is a part of the workplace problem or if you feel that your supervisor won’t be sympathetic to your concerns, you can take your issue to HR. It’s advised to consider how your HR team will react. Some companies are lucky to have an HR team that will look out for the interest of all parties involved, but there are many HR professionals who will only look out for the executives who pay them. Where does your HR team stand? If you do decide to speak with HR, make sure you’re prepared to present your case properly and that you’re ready for questioning. Taking your problems to HR will escalate the issue and significantly increase your risk of experiencing retaliation. Once you take an issue to HR, you’re marked as someone who can potentially disrupt the workplace.

• Talk to a lawyer or third-party professional who is familiar with HR practices. This is an option if management or HR can’t be trusted. The lawyer can advise you on how to best handle the issue.

• Share your workplace issue on a company channel, a personal blog, a media outlet, or a forum like Blind. This option can bring widespread awareness to an issue. However, this action alone is probably not the most effective for resolving a problem. It’s best that this option is taken only in addition to one of the other options listed above.

Be Prepared

No matter how you choose to resolve a workplace problem, it’s best to prepare for the worst case scenario. Here are steps you should take to get ready for retaliation:

Document and keep evidence of the following three things: You were engaged in a protected activity, your employer took an adverse action against you, and that there is a link between the protected activity and the adverse action.

• Update your resume and reach out to your network to line up potential new jobs. 

In an ideal world, you would be able to assert your rights and not be punished for it. Unfortunately, there are CEOs, HR mangers, and executives who will abuse their powers to silence voices that they don’t want heard. If you choose to speak up, know that adverse reactions may come your way and be prepared to handle them. And no matter how things turn out, know that you took a stand in creating a better workplace for yourself and your co-workers. Not everyone has the courage to do this.

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