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I wrote last week on what employees can do if they’re being or have been sexually harassed at the workplace. I wrote that the employee should report the harassment and if s/he experiences retaliation, to also report that. However, retaliation can turn into one of the most unjust and uncomfortable situation ever, I know that too well. And seeing as people can really be mean, the individual who reports a sexual harassment would most likely experience retaliation. It is important to note that retaliation as a result of a complaint or support against discrimination or harassment isn’t only experienced in the workplace, it occurs in social settings, communities, religious settings, etc. because largely, people feel threatened when someone speaks up against an issue.

Retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse action (such as demotion, termination or disciplinary action) against an employee because he or she engaged in a protected activity. Some protected activities include filing a workers’ compensation claim, reporting a harassment or discrimination, etc.

Common workplace retaliation tactics include;

  • Being Left Out. Victims of retaliation may be excluded from decisions and work activity by supervisors or management.
  • Receiving Cold Shoulder. Some report that they were vilified and given the cold shoulder by other employees.
  • Managerial Abuse. Being verbally abused by a supervisor or someone else in management.
  • Potential Job Loss. They almost lost their jobs.
  • No Promotion. They were passed over for a raise or promotion.
  • Abuse By Coworkers. Verbal abuse, mockery, sneers, etc. by other workers.
  • Pay Cut. Their hours or pay were cut.
  • Reassignment. 
  • Demotion. 
  • Online Abuse. Some experience online monitoring, harassment.
  • Physical Harm. Some experience physical harm to self or property.
  • Home harassment. Some report being harassed at home

Retaliation is not the same as harassment or “hostile workplace,” and it is not about people getting revenge or “getting back” at anyone. Retaliation is about making people afraid to complain or to assert their rights.  It is a subtle, but important distinction. Experts say between 50 percent and 70 percent of retaliation cases are perpetrated by managers, but retaliation can also include bullying as a form of retribution. In retaliation, the only concern is whether an “adverse action” (following from a complaint or “protected activity“) would tend to discourage other people from complaining. It doesn’t matter what the motive or intent was. It also doesn’t matter whether the original complaint was valid.  One cannot be punished for speaking up. If that is the case, who is ever going to speak out?

When someone is suddenly treated differently at work,  or assigned different responsibilities, spoken about in a vile/dishonorable manner,  or excluded from meetings or discussions,  there is always some excuse or explanation. There is always some pretext (i.e.,  a “made-up” excuse). Intuitively,  people know what retaliation looks like. Everyone knows that if you complain, there is a good chance you are going to be punished, and everyone knows about pretend excuses from management. That is why there need to be a retaliation prohibition policy alongside sexual harassment and discrimination policies in organizations. The prohibition against retaliation is not just a matter of safety or preservation.  It is not just a matter of  fair employment condition. Making certain that employees feel empowered to voice their concerns is a test of organizational leadership, because An organization cannot function effectively when workers are afraid.  People won’t ask questions they should ask, they won’t report things they should report, and they won’t stand up to authority when necessary.  If management is the last to know when something is wrong,  that is a problem. 

What can a victim of workplace retaliation do?

  • Report The Retaliation. Indicate evidence of retaliation by establishing a link between the initial complaint and how people experienced or responded to the complaint. 
  • Keep Evidence.  Save nasty emails and document the incidents.
  • Find Ways To Motivate And Encourage Yourself. As a result of unfair treatment and collective victimization from coworkers and peers, it could become very emotionally tasking to show up or participate fully and effectively. It is important to find what would keep you motivated and encouraged while you’re there.
  • Consider Leaving. Some forms of retaliation can escalate to the point where the victim may fear harm to self or endless vilification of their work, character and reputation, and while some workers who stay in jobs where they face retaliation do so for economic reasons, just as many stay out of a desire to stand up to injustice. Standing up to bullies and injustice while not showing that you know what is being done and that it affects you is noble, however, for peace of mind, it is important to acknowledge when it is time to leave. You can always stand up to injustice from a safe distance.



  1. Everyday Psychology. http://www.everydaypsychology.com/2012/03/what-is-workplace-retaliation-its-about.html#.WMpgH2_yuUk
  2. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/2016/09/14/493788339/advice-for-dealing-with-workplace-retaliation-save-those-nasty-emails


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