Retaliation is revenge or reprisal. Retaliation means to get even, or to take revenge. But, retaliation in employment and the world of Human Resources has a much more specific meaning and connotation. In connection with charges of discrimination, retaliation is a serious issue for employers.
For employers, note that all of the laws that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces make it illegal to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against either job applicants or employees for these reasons. The employee or applicant:
- filed a charge of discrimination,
- complained to their employer or other covered entity about discrimination on the job, or
- participated in an employment discrimination proceeding, such as an investigation or a lawsuit.
The law forbids retaliation when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, transfers or lateral moves, layoffs, training, benefits, and any other terms or conditions of employment.
An employee or applicant is protected by law from retaliation whether his or her charges are proven true or false. This is to preserve and protect their rights, and to encourage employees or applicants who experience discrimination or retaliation to come forward and report it.
Retaliation can be stealthy and difficult to witness and document. This makes the obligation of the employer to regularly follow up with any applicant or employee who might face retaliation as a result of the reasons stated above, critical. The employer would be smart to document the regular follow-up and any charges of retaliation that are reported or witnessed as a result.
Employers must investigate a charge of retaliation, and even a rumor of retaliation, and document the investigation, its findings, and any disciplinary action that resulted. Following the investigation, the employer still has the obligation to continue to follow up to ensure that retaliation is not occurring.
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