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Watch out for employer retaliation after reporting harassment


Most companies large enough to have a human resources department have a sexual harassment policy in place. These policies generally outline inappropriate behaviors and provide a means for employees to report experiences of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. When properly enforced, these policies can help protect people from hostile work environments.

Unfortunately for some victims of harassment, the person entrusted with receiving and appropriately escalating these kinds of complaints can become complicit in the harassment. Some might directly engage in creating a hostile work environment, while others may seek to protect the harasser over the person who reports the behavior. For some workers, reporting harassment according to company policy can result in retaliatory actions by their employers.

Some companies aren't subtle about retaliation

Retaliation, or punishing an employee for asserting his or her right to a safe work environment, is still a common occurrence in business.

People build relationships with co-workers that may inspire loyalty, even if one party wrongs someone else. Other times, the desire to minimize scandal results in efforts to keep the whole issue quiet and fix it the fastest way possible. That may be firing, demoting or otherwise directly punishing the person who reports the harassment.

Retaliation can also look like making you miserable enough to quit. You may worry about potential retaliation because your employer didn't take your report seriously. Even if your employer conducts a proper investigation, your co-workers could somehow find out about who makes the complaint. That can turn social opinion against you, damaging your relationships and making work unpleasant.

Retaliation can also be subtle and delayed

Not everyone who faces retaliatory practices by an employer can see the issue right away. It's possible for a company to handle the complaint process properly, potentially including reprimanding or penalizing the harasser(s), but still later retaliate against the victim.

One common example is the practice of rating performance lower after a complaint. When the time comes for your quarterly review, you receive scores much lower than in the past. While your performance hasn't changed in any perceivable way, your employer now claims to be less satisfied with your work. You could find yourself written up for tiny infractions that others do not receive any kind of penalty for committing.

Retaliation can also look like making your job less profitable. You could receive fewer leads or just lower quality leads if you're in sales. Those in service or manufacturing positions could wind up working the least desirable shifts and performing the worst tasks.

It's your employer's job to protect you from harassment from customers as well as co-workers. If they choose to punish you for reporting harassment, you should consider all of your options for standing up for your rights.

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