What Does Retaliation and Reprisal Look Like in the Workplace?

Employers aren’t always fair. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they want you to walk the line of compliance and strict adherence to the rules or face demerits and unemployment, but sometimes that position of power is abused. Sometimes you may find yourself being punished for following the rules in a way that your employer decides they didn’t like. This practice of punishment for authorized employee actions is known as retaliation or reprisal and by doing so, they are infringing on your rights as an employee under the EEOC. If your employer has or is currently retaliating against you for something you were obligated or had every right to do, you can and should take legal action to correct the situation before they do the same to someone else.

However, before you take action, it’s important to define your terms and prepare your case. Corporate entities and their team of corporate lawyers will take any stance they can to avoid reprimand including making the claim that any signs of retaliation were natural coworker interactions or, worse, all in your head. To help you figure out what to do next and the direction to take your potential lawsuit, let’s take a closer look at what retaliation and reprisal is, what it looks like, and the motives companies have when retaliating.

Motive for Retaliation

Retaliation and reprisal always start with a reason, a trigger that caused your working situation to turn against you. The question is what has recently happened to trigger retaliatory actions. Most employees who feel that retaliation is taking place have no question in their minds what they are being punished for. In our experience, the top reasons for retaliatory action from an employer are whistleblowing, a workplace injury and worker’s comp claim, or filing a harassment or discrimination complaint.

If the reason seems less clear-cut, some cases of retaliation may have to do with more personal or company-specific reasons. Employees may see reprisal if they accidentally showed up their boss in front of a client, if they are suspected of in-office dating, or if they are blamed for an event that was not under their control like a lost client or another employee quitting.

Sources of Retaliation in the Workplace

Retaliation can come from one person, like your direct superior, a group of people like a team you must work with, or the entire company culture. In a best case scenario, the hostility you are experiencing is coming from a single person who the company will gladly oust to avoid legal trouble. However, in a worst case scenario the retaliation was always a hidden part of the company culture waiting to defend something bad that they are not ashamed of. If, for instance, the company has been secretly breaking certain regulations for years, whistleblowers might be systematically crushed by everyone who has been complicit.

Restricted Duties and Responsibilities

The most common form of institutional workplace retaliation and reprisal is a restriction of duties and/or responsibilities. While your pay and title may be the same, suddenly you are finding yourself doing nothing but data entry and grunt work for the rest of your team. Your employer may try to be casual about it or they may be openly nasty, but if you are no longer allowed to perform your normal work tasks or take control of things you once managed, this has been accepted in courts as a clear sign of retaliation and reprisal. In short, your employer is trying to bore you out of the job, to convince you to quit because firing you would be overt retaliation for the report or claim you recently filed.

Abusive Hours

For employees who are assigned hours as in a retail or on-call environment, employers have been known to use this power in order to starve or overwork staff that have ‘displeased’ them. Sometimes this takes the form of reducing hours, trying to ‘starve out’ an employee who has become troublesome by not scheduling them enough hours to make a living.

However, the more dangerous variation of hour abuse is back-to-back scheduling. Some employers have been known to use retaliation to work employees until they drop from exhaustion. They will schedule as many shifts back-to-back as possible to keep a ‘bad’ employee working around the clock. And then they will apply ‘legitimate’ demerits when their victim is asleep on their feet on the third shift in a row.

Demotion Without Cause

You may even find yourself openly demoted with a new job title and pay cut as a result of your recent encounter with HR or an advisory board. Demotion is a dangerous move because it can be taken as overt retaliation which means it will likely be masked as a lateral move instead. A lateral move that just so happens to be demeaning with fewer hours, less pay, and/or reduced benefits. In many cases, a ‘lateral’ move is often used to separate a targeted employee from the person they made a complaint about. While this can be a fair move, when you are effectively demoted and the perpetrator of whatever previous event ocurred is not, you are being retaliated against.

Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

Of course, by far the most common of all workplace retaliation tactics is simple human nastiness. When the company culture is aligned against your recent action, the people themselves will turn against you. This is especially common in ‘blame the victim’ scenarios where someone who has been harassed, discriminated against, or suffered a workplace injury is now welcome to be the subject of ridicule, mockery, and mean treatment by the entire company afterward.

Sneers, insults, and derogatory comments about you are harassment which is in and of itself illegal in the workplace. However, when this hostility is coordinated and approved of by people in positions of authority over you, it officially becomes a hostile work environment and retaliatory action. This is especially true if the remarks are about the recent event, like that you are worthlessly clumsy if you have been injured or women who are told that they were “asking for it” after being sexually harassed.

If you are being retaliated against or managers in control of your employment are seeking reprisal for whistleblowing, filing a complaint, or being injured on the job, your employer is breaking the law. And worse, chances are that you are not the first person they have done this to and you will not be the last. Here at Villaume & Schiek, we can help you get the justice and fair treatment you have a right to by law and spotlight your employer for their bad behavior to hopefully prevent this kind of abuse from happening again. For more information on building a strong case for your situation, contact us today. We’re ready to help.