Fear of retaliation: A prime indicator of organizational integrity and decency

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There are plenty of factors that go into what makes a good workplace, but I’d like to zero in on one measure: Do employees have reason to fear retaliation if they report alleged wrongdoings, such as discrimination and sexual harassment, bullying, unsafe working conditions, or ethical transgressions, or if they engage in legally protected activities such as union organizing?

The answer to this question speaks volumes about an organization’s integrity and decency. It all boils down pretty clearly: The good organizations don’t retaliate against individuals for engaging in legally protected conduct or for reporting potentially illegal or wrongful behaviors. The bad ones do.

Retaliation can take many forms, including:

  • Active, targeted, threatening, and prompt retaliation via overt and covert means;
  • Milder, usually indirect retaliation that makes it more difficult to establish a cause-and-effect relationship;
  • Taking a wait-and-see approach by watching the employee for the slightest mistake or transgression, and then blowing it up into a major performance weakness or act of misconduct;
  • Icing out the employee from various opportunities, while building elaborate, pretextual justifications for doing so; and,
  • Retaliating against the employee’s compatriots or friends.

Most protective employment statutes, such as discrimination laws, collective bargaining laws, and health & safety laws, have anti-retaliation provisions designed to protect those who report alleged violations and who cooperate with related investigations and legal proceedings. But prevailing on such claims is not easy, and the nastier the employer, the more likely it is to have raised hiding its motives to an art form.

A lot of retaliation takes the form of workplace bullying. However, establishing motive and causation under anti-retaliation provisions of various laws can be a challenge. It’s among the reasons why we need standalone legal protections against workplace bullying.

Freedom from fear is an important element of dignity at work. Praise be to organizations that truly practice this value.

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The article in the screenshot above is just one of an endless number of pieces online about fear of retaliation for whistleblowing and asserting one’s legal rights.

4 responses

  1. Do employees have reason to fear retaliation if they report alleged wrongdoings, such as discrimination and sexual harassment, bullying, unsafe working conditions, or ethical transgressions, or if they engage in legally protected activities such as union organizing? They do though for bullying and ethical transgressions not for union activities.

    My department chair, who has been coercing staff to feed the sidewalk meters where he parks his car, summoned campus security to remove a staff member from a department meeting to keep him from revealing bad news. The staff member, who has been coerced for more than a year to feed parking meters, was planning to tell the department 1) That the College had been ordered by the University to stop providing Internet technical support to the department because it refused to remove torture porn sites on the department listserv and 2) that he was being transferred to another department because the University had learned that he was being harassed and intimidated for trying to do his job, which required him to remove the porn sites. His attempts angered Colleagues and he was subjected to incredible harassment.

    I posted a description on the College Listserv of security removing the staff member. Many in the Hunter community were livid. And there was pushback directed at me for posting the description. I would have no problem doing it again.

    Note: Forcing staff to feed parking meters is not only ethically heinous but it violates union contracts. I

    • We need to work together Greg. We work for the same university and it sounds like we’ve had similar experiences. It looks like there is a race/color/discriminative aspect to the bullying as well.

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