Recent EEOC data shows that in FY 2019 retaliation was once again the number one charge filed with the agency, comprising almost 54% of all complaints. One of the reasons for the high number is that many harassment complaints are coupled with a retaliation charge. And even if the original harassment charge isn’t proven valid, the retaliation charge may still hold.
What is retaliation?
It is illegal to retaliate against an employee for filing a good-faith complaint of sexual harassment or discrimination. Retaliatory actions can be subtle, such as excluding individuals from professional or personal activities. The employee may be subject to ridicule, shunning or complaints they’re not a ‘team player.’ Retaliation can take on more overt forms, too — demotion, transfer or dismissal. Any negative behaviors or consequences that result following a complaint may be construed as retaliatory. And mistreatment doesn’t have to come from managers: even colleagues can retaliate against the complainant.
Recent retaliation cases
The EEOC continues to settle large and small charges of harassment and retaliation. In 2019, one national organization agreed to a $4.4 million settlement to resolve charges alleging the company allowed a culture of sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complained about harassment.
In another case, a company agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit alleging female employees were fired for reporting and/or verifying sexual harassment.
What can employers do to avoid retaliation claims?
A retaliation-free workplace begins with management leading by example, followed by clearly written policies, easy-to-understand reporting procedures and regular, interactive training. Training is an important step in ensuring managers and supervisors know how to respond appropriately to complaints and avoid any actions that could be considered retaliatory against individuals who report harassment or discrimination or participate in an investigation or other protected activity.
Retaliation charges are consistently the most frequently filed claim with the EEOC, underscoring the importance of organizations implementing anti-retaliation policies, procedures and training. As part of a holistic approach to preventing harassment and discrimination and improving workplace culture, retaliation training can help organizations address this widespread problem, and reassure employees that they’re protected from retaliation and their complaints will be taken seriously.