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Retaliation for reporting harassment at work takes many forms

The holiday season is a time for work parties, often involving alcohol. While drinks can facilitate socialization at events, they can also lead to poor behavior and questionable decision making in some. Managers could make unwanted sexual advances toward staff, or one worker could assault others by touching them against their wishes. These kinds of issues are incredibly common, and employers should take reports of harassment and abuse from co-workers seriously, regardless of whether it started at the company party or not.

Unfortunately, harassers often seem to get a free pass in business. People who report abuse, harassment or mistreatment to management or human resources often receive retaliation and punishment instead of support. Those who misbehave and create hostile work environments may go without so much as a write-up, while those who report the misbehavior of others end up miserable at work. That kind of retaliation is illegal, but it happens with some frequency.

Common forms of workplace retaliation

One of the most common forms of workplace retaliation involves breaching the confidentiality of the reporter. All it takes is informing a few people in the workplace about the complaint, and suddenly everyone will be treating the complainant differently. Especially in cases where the person accused of bad behavior is a well-liked co-worker or manager, this kind of gossip could be enough to force someone out of a job.

It's also common for complaints to result in disciplinary actions against the person complaining. For example, a worker gets written up for poor performance or attitude when nothing in one's job performance has changed. Other times, termination, potentially hiding behind "at will" statutes, is the result.

Some employers are more subtle in how they punish people who report harassment. They may start slowly reducing your hours or giving you worse shifts. In sales situations, fewer leads or very low-quality leads could be a form of punishment. Passing someone over for promotions and raises, or actively reducing one's position or salary are also common forms of retaliation. All of these kinds of actions on the part of an employer are illegal, and workers shouldn't accept them.

Employers justify retaliation in all kinds of ways

Some employers who retaliate against those who report harassment or abuse may think they are doing the right thing for their company. They may tell themselves they are protecting the culture at the business. The person who made the report is too sensitive or isn't the right fit for the culture of the workplace. Other times, they may believe that regardless of interpersonal issues, the person accused of harassment is more valuable to the company.

Regardless of the potential justification for retaliation after a report of harassment, the victim has the right to take action. In some cases, a lawsuit may be the best option. If companies lose money by covering up harassment, they are less likely to think of doing so as a smart business tactic.

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