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What's Considered Workplace Retaliation?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

Employers are often in the dark when it comes to what is considered workplace retaliation. Bosses often don't realize that a cold shoulder here and a verbal slight there can count as unlawful retaliation.

Based on new data revealed by the Ethics Resource Center, Forbes compiled a list of the most common retaliation tactics. Widely known forms of retaliation -- job loss, pay cuts, demotions, and reassignments -- certainly made the cut. But retaliation reared its ugly head the most in more subtle ways in social contexts.

Here are three types of retaliation tactics that you may not realize can land you in legal trouble:

  1. Excluded and ostracized. 64% of workers who lodged formal complaints for retaliation reported they were excluded from decisions and work activity by supervisors or management, reports Forbes. To keep yourself and other managers in check of unintentional retaliation, make a paper trail by documenting the reasons behind your decisions and actions. If you must take adverse action against an employee who has complained -- like excluding him or her from certain decisions and activities -- be prepared to show that you had valid reasons to do so, unrelated to the complaint.
  2. Cold shoulder. 62% report they were given the cold shoulder by other employees. To prevent "cold shoulder retaliation," keep workplace complaints private. The fewer people that know about a complaint, the smaller the circle for potential social retaliation becomes.
  3. Verbal abuse. 62% report they were verbally abused by a supervisor or someone else in management. Meanwhile, 51% report they were verbally abused by coworkers. The key here is to unequivocally and explicitly make clear -- through education and company policy -- that verbal abuse will not be tolerated in the workplace. Most importantly, enforce that rule.

If you are confused about where the line in the sand is, you may want to speak to an experienced employment law attorney, because even a seemingly "mundane" slight at an employee could potentially count as a form of retaliation.

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