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What does workplace retaliation look like?

Retaliation at work is a concern that can affect any employee, regardless of their role, industry or seniority. It happens when an employer takes adverse action against an employee for participating in a legally protected activity. Retaliation is illegal, so employers should have clear protocols in place to prevent it from occurring.

These activities include reporting harassment, participating in an investigation or speaking out about unsafe working conditions, as well as taking legally-protected leave, serving on a jury, seeking reasonable accommodations for a disability, etc. These actions are protected under various laws, meaning employers shouldn’t retaliate against employees for participating in them.

A fear of retaliation can be a powerful deterrent, preventing employees from participating in protected activities. Understanding what constitutes retaliation and how to protect yourself can significantly affect how you handle such situations at work, should they occur.

Identifying signs of retaliation

Retaliation can manifest in various forms, making it somewhat challenging to identify. Some forms of retaliation include demotions, unfavorable job assignments, salary reductions, or even subtle forms of social isolation at the workplace. It’s essential to stay vigilant and note any changes in the work environment or attitudes from management or co-workers after participating in a protected activity.

The role of documentation in your case

If you suspect that you’re experiencing retaliation, start by meticulously documenting each incident. This means taking note of dates, times, people involved and the nature of the adverse action. Keep a record of emails, memos or any other communication you think could relate to the retaliation. This documentation is an objective record that can be crucial if you ever need to escalate the issue within your company or in another way. Remember to avoid storing these records on company property or systems, as they could be inaccessible if you’re suddenly terminated or locked out of company resources.

Don’t slack off on your job responsibilities

Participating in a protected activity doesn’t give you a free pass on your work duties. Employers can still terminate or discipline you for valid reasons unrelated to the reported issue.

You should learn your options if you suspect you’re being retaliated against. Working closely with someone familiar with these cases can help you determine how to handle the situation in the manner that’s best given your unique circumstances and needs.