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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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What Is Retaliation?

Retaliation is a situation where an employee who reports on harmful or illegal practices in their organization receives disciplinary consequences from their employer or manager. These consequences may include:

  • Dismissal

  • Reprimands and poor performance evaluations

  • Transfer to a less desirable position

  • Verbal or physical abuse

  • Threats of reporting an employee’s immigration status or contacting the police, or following through with these threats

  • Increased scrutiny at work 

  • Attacks on the employee’s reputation

  • Repercussions on the employee’s family members

  • Actions that make the employee's work more difficult (in scheduling or responsibilities)

Are These Actions Always Considered Retaliation?

Many of these consequences may occur for other reasons, and The Civil Rights Act specifies that an employee claiming retaliation is not immune to lawful dismissal. But to avoid damages related to retaliation, the employer needs to prove that their actions are solely in response to legal causes and are not retaliation. 

According to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, employers cannot discipline employees in the following situations:

  • Filing or being a witness in an EEO charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit

  • Communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment

  • Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment

  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination

  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others

  • Requesting accommodation for a disability or for a religious practice

  • Asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages

What Damages Could Employers Pay in Retaliation Settlements?

If an employer is found guilty of discriminatory retaliation, they must provide restitution to the employee. This restitution can include back pay for the expected compensation the defendant missed as a result of the retaliation, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and front pay for the compensation missed while the retaliation case is being decided.