Navigating the ins and outs of employee relationships can be difficult for any employer. A particular tricky area is that of workplace retaliation. Reviewing some basics of what kind of actions may constitute retaliation and how to avoid problematic workplace situations will help you protect your business and treat your employees properly.
When an Employee Alleges Retaliation
Employees are protected by numerous state and federal rules that govern anti-discrimination policies, workplace health and safety, and many other aspects of the employer’s relationship with its personnel. When an employee alleges an unlawful practice by his or her employer, protections against retaliation spring into place as well. An employer may not discourage reports of wrongdoing by penalizing employees who bring violations to light.
Once an employee has alleged illegal practices, whether through filing a complaint to an administrative body or through reporting to the company’s Human Resources, any negative action by the employer can be interpreted as retaliation. In this context, even an otherwise neutral action such as reassignment of the complaining employee can be the basis for a retaliation claim. If your employee is reporting improper conduct by another person, remember that remedial action should be focused on the source of the problem, rather than on the reporter. Otherwise, even if you genuinely mean well, you may find yourself accused of retaliation.
Another key point for employers to keep in mind is that the original complaint does not have to be found true in order for a retaliation claim to stand. If the complaining employee reasonably believed that there was a basis for the original allegation and then experiences retaliation, he or she has a valid claim. This is because rules against retaliation are not designed to determine the truth of the original complaint. Their purpose is solely to create a workplace environment where employees feel safe reporting improper behavior.
Of course, even after an employee has filed a complaint, there may be legitimate reasons to penalize him or her based on workplace performance. As an employer, remember to protect your self by thoroughly documenting the basis for any type of discipline. In fact, this is a good practice even when the employee involved has not filed a complaint.
In addition to employees who report wrongdoing, retaliation laws also protect those who participate in an investigation of the company by providing information or testimony. If your employee participates in a deposition and provides potentially harmful information about your business, you may not retaliate.
Defending a retaliation lawsuit can be extremely time-consuming and expensive, especially for smaller companies. There are some steps you can take to avoid having these claims filed against you in the first place.
Setting Up Processes
Design and implement a training program for all your employees, especially those in supervisory positions. Your program should address issues such as discriminatory practices, workplace conduct and employee discipline. Formulating and enforcing uniform rules and processes for promotions, compensation and discipline will avoid situations where an employee may feel singled out or discriminated against. Special attention should be given if any of your employee requirements may implicate discrimination laws. For example, preferences for a specific type of appearance or a particular gender are likely to be scrutinized intensely. If, after thinking long and hard, you decide these requirements are necessary, be sure to document this necessity extensively. Consult an employment law attorney to be sure that no point in your company policies is in violation of applicable laws.
In addition, establish a process for intake and handling of employee complaints and make sure that all employees are aware of it. The most effective company policies make sure that complaints are handled appropriately on a substantive level. Appearances should also never be neglected. Often, an employer means well and does its best to treat employees properly, but carelessness in procedure can lead to the appearance of impropriety and thus to complaints.
Retaliation suits can be burdensome and costly to employers. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking preventative action to avoid complaints is the best way to protect your business and your relationship with your employees.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.