Retaliation in the Workplace: How to Spot it and Stop it

Categories: Advice for HR Professionals

One of the most important HR tasks is to promote a safe environment for everyone in the workplace. This includes resolving conflicts in a swift and just manner. A clear and open HR complaint filing procedure makes employees feel heard and protected. 

However, there may be cases where respondents retaliate against the complainant during or after the case, further aggravating the situation. You must be there to identify and settle the issue quickly. To help you spot the problem and nip it in the bud, here are some signs of workplace retaliation and how to prevent it from escalating.

6 Signs of Workplace Retaliation

When looking for signs of retaliation, note that some actions may not be done in bad faith. It may all just be a coincidence, or there may be a reason why they made that move, especially in case of manager-staff conflict. Remember to exercise good judgment when handling these situations.

With that said, here are some examples of retaliation in the workplace you should watch out for. 

  1. Exclusion and More Harassment 

The employee complainant may experience the silent treatment, wherein they are deliberately ignored in conversations about team projects, which may also carry over to group activities, training, and staff meetings. They may also be subjected to more harassment and passive-aggressiveness (albeit more subtle) than before the complaint was made.

  1. Demotion and Denied Opportunities

Being assigned to lower-ranking positions, taking away seniority privileges, and getting passed over for promotion or raise are also signs of workplace retaliation.

  1. Change in Job Shifts 

Although this can be because of circumstances in the work schedule, it may also be a form of retaliation, especially if the shift is particularly unfavorable to the complainant. 

  1. Reassignment

While reassigning two erring personalities to different groups is a common way of dealing with conflict. It’s also possible that employees can get reassigned to a department or position far from what they initially held as a form of retaliation, especially if the respondent initiated the reassignment.

  1. Excessive Micromanagement

Micromanagement is not a hostile action in itself. It only becomes an issue when the superior does this after the complainant speaks out.

  1. Unwarranted Negative Performance Reviews

Performance reviews are necessary to know if the employee works well, and negative feedback is inevitable. But these may also be a form of retaliation, especially if the employee had good reviews prior to filing a complaint and had no changes in their work ethic. 

How to Prevent Retaliation in the Workplace

  • Have a clear and strict anti-retaliation policy

Your anti-retaliation policy isn’t just there for show. It must be made available for your employees to view and understand. That way, they’ll know what to do and where to complain if they ever encounter signs of retaliation. You can distribute this through your company’s intranet, wiki, or handbook. 

Ensure that you implement a zero-tolerance policy, stating that any forms of retaliation will not be tolerated and disciplinary actions will be taken against the respondent.

  • Keep your doors open to complaints

Empower your employees to come to you when they encounter these issues. This helps prevent a toxic work environment where employees are demotivated, causing them to resign.

Often, retaliation can come from those in higher positions, dissuading employees from complaining about any misconduct. You’ll need to create a safe space for them to complain by listening to their concerns with empathy and taking action swiftly.

  • Ensure confidentiality from the get-go

Retaliation from a co-worker may result from knowing that an employee has filed a complaint against them. Therefore, you must inform them that everything they say will be confidential to avoid further exacerbating the aggression. This will also help keep the workplace a safe space for all employees, empowering them to step forward and complain.

  • Design an investigation process 

First and foremost, you’ll need to provide a reliable avenue or channel where employees can submit their concerns. This lets you receive and investigate them promptly. To help in your investigation, lay down the specific steps and measures you’ll take so you and the complainant can keep track of what’s happening. 

This also reassures them that you are on top of the case, ensuring a prompt resolution and protecting the respondents from wrongful punishment.

  • Document everything 

Investigations are rarely conducted with only eye-witness accounts. You must instruct both parties to collect as much evidence as possible to support their argument.

For example, an employee may have been demoted or passed over for a promotion even though their work performance says otherwise. Email threads and screenshots should be kept as evidence. If this happens, you may need to look into it as it is a retaliation against the complainant.

  • Conduct ethics training sessions 

When conducting anti-retaliation training sessions, include what retaliation is, how it can manifest, and the possible disciplinary actions. By spreading awareness, you can prevent other issues that may arise from employee conflicts. To supplement this, it’s also best to train managers and other superiors on how to spot and handle these situations so they can report to HR immediately. 

  • Hold perpetrators accountable

Your anti-retaliation policies are not just for show. A strict, zero-tolerance policy entails holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions by promptly imparting reasonable disciplinary action corresponding to their faults. This way, you’re reinforcing that retaliation is a big no-no in the office and that anyone afflicted by this can step forward and rely on the process.

Conflict Resolution Minus the Aggression

Conflicts between employees are inevitable but prolonging it may lead to a toxic workplace. This makes it necessary to respond to the complaints filed swiftly. However, retaliation may happen, which can damage work relationships further.

As HR, it’s your responsibility to create a conducive working environment, and having your employees trust in you to handle these situations can help. Know the signs and have certain measures and actions in place to prevent retaliation in the workplace. Looking for help with human resources and people management? Manila Recruitment is a recruitment agency in the Philippines offering top-notch services to assist you in HR-related concerns. Contact us today to know how we can help.