What Is Considered Retaliation in the Workplace?

What’s considered retaliation in the workplace?

Employees in the US have rights under state and federal laws. If your employer violates these rights, you can report them.

Additionally, you have a right to report violations affecting your co-workers and join investigations.

However, many hesitate due to fear of retaliation like being fired or demoted.

As a worker, you should know that you’re protected from such actions by law.

If you’ve faced retaliation or fear reporting violations, you can go ahead and consult with an employment lawyer.

They can assist you in understanding your rights, standing up for yourself, and seeking justice.

An image representing Retaliation in a workplace
Source: Levine&Blitt

What’s workplace retaliation?

It’s when your employer, directly or through someone else, punishes you for doing something protected, like reporting a problem.

This could mean getting fired or facing other bad consequences.

Retaliation in the workplace can harm your job and even be used to scare others from speaking up, which is against the law.

What are the Protected Activities?

Protected activity typically means actions an employee can legally take when faced with unfair or unlawful conditions at work.

Various state and federal laws outline what constitutes illegal discrimination, harassment, and other prohibited behaviors in the workplace.

Typically, employees can engage in certain actions without facing punishment, such as:

  • Reporting discrimination or harassment
  • Cooperating in a harassment investigation
  • Refusing discriminatory orders
  • Asking for reasonable accommodation
  • Filing complaints
  • Asking about pay or hours
  • Reporting harassment
  • Asserting their rights
  • Saying no to unwanted advances or stepping in to stop them for others

What is Considered Retaliation in the Workplace?

Employers have various ways to retaliate against workers who report illegal activities in the workplace.

Essentially, any action by the employer that harms the worker can be considered retaliation in the workplace. This may involve:

  • Demotion
  • Termination
  • Increased scrutiny at work
  • Suspension
  • Unjust reprimands
  • Negative evaluations without justification
  • Transfer to a less favorable work environment
  • Assigning them to worse jobs
  • Being moved to an unpleasant office location
  • Boss ridicule, privately or in front of colleagues

Proving specific acts as retaliation can be difficult, as it requires understanding the employer’s intentions.

Although proving intent can be tough, your lawyer will analyze various actions to determine motive.

Preventing Retaliation in the workplace

Here’s how you can stop bosses from getting back at their employees:

  1. Set clear rules: Make a policy that says what’s not allowed in your workplace, like retaliating against someone who speaks up about a problem.
  2. Teach everyone: Tell your workers and bosses about this policy. Put it in your handbook and explain it in training sessions.
  3. Keep records: Make sure everyone signs a paper saying they know the rules. Keep these papers in case you need them later.
  4. Be fair: If someone needs to be disciplined, make sure it’s fair. Get approval from human resources before doing anything serious.
  5. Keep proof: Write down everything that happens, like meetings or warnings. Keep emails and other documents to show why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  6. Keep secrets: If someone has a problem, tell them to talk to human resources. Make sure their complaints stay private and protect them from retaliation.

Ultimately, if someone thinks they’re being retaliated against, human resources can check the rules to see if it’s really happening.


In conclusion, retaliation in the workplace is a serious issue that undermines the integrity of a fair and just work environment.

It occurs when an employer takes adverse action against a worker for participating in protected activities, such as reporting discrimination, participating in an investigation, or asserting their rights under employment laws.

While not all forms of retaliation are unlawful, those that can have significant legal consequences for employers and create a culture of fear and silence among employees are.

It is therefore important for both employers and workers to understand what’s considered retaliation and the rights that protect workers from such actions.

Employers should foster an atmosphere where employees feel safe to raise concerns without fear of punishment.

Subsequently, employees should be aware of their rights and the proper channels to report any retaliatory behavior they experience.

Ultimately, talking about workplace retaliation is not just a legal responsibility but a moral imperative which ensures a respectful and equitable workplace for all.

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