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What is workplace retaliation and why is it illegal?

The workplace is supposed to be a safe space, where people can be themselves and do their jobs without worrying about discrimination or harassment. Unfortunately, many people are unable to follow those rules. Sometimes this means overt discriminatory behavior such as using racial slurs or demeaning speech. At other times it may be withholding promotion opportunities and paying people less than equally qualified peers. Besides being illegal, belittling employees and coworkers is just bad business.

Workers do have protection when these incidents occur. An employee who experiences discrimination is supposed to be able to report the issue to their employer and have it resolved. But often the employer is part of the problem, making a bad situation even worse.

A disregard for the rules

Federal rules protect issues concerning race, religion, country of origin, age, gender and sexual orientation. It is illegal to discriminate or harass employees based on these characteristics. And, just as important, it is illegal to punish employees for speaking up against these behaviors.

Retaliation is a legal term that means a company fired somebody for whistleblowing. Instead of fixing the problem, the company tries to sweep it under the rug. It’s not just illegal. It reinforces bad behavior within their organization and implicitly tells other employees that it’s okay.

But it’s also not surprising that employers who fail to address concerns are also willing to double down on their position. Almost half of reported discrimination cases lead to retaliation, according to a recent report.

Responding to wrongful termination

It would be ideal if every employee was given proper resources and respect, but the unfortunate truth is that some people will never abide by the rules until they are held accountable. Retaliation laws present workers an extra security net when they end up in such a toxic position.

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