Managing a team of people comes with challenges. Teams will always have areas of disagreement or conflict. Often, these can be shaped to lead to better outcomes; occasionally, however, personalities clash in unproductive ways. 

Not every employee will work well with your team – but any situation can and should be dealt with in a way that doesn’t subject anyone to retaliation from managers or co-workers. Here, we explore employee retaliation and how to avoid it at work.

Understanding Retaliation

“Retaliation” occurs when an applicant, employee, or former employee receives some kind of punishment for filing a complaint or charge of discrimination with your business or any government entity responsible for overseeing businesses, participating in a discrimination investigation or a lawsuit, or opposing discrimination – such as by speaking up against it or announcing their plan to file a complaint. 

Most literature on retaliation focuses on punishments that businesses impose on applicants or employees. This information focuses on the company-worker relationship because workers typically have far less power in that relationship than the company has. 

What is Employee Retaliation?

Yet a company consists of people. The largest companies have hundreds or even thousands of employees, while small businesses may only have a few. When a specific instance of retaliation occurs, it’s people who are involved. 

Employee retaliation occurs when one employee punishes another for protected behavior. For example, one team member may announce that they’re participating in an investigation, only to have another act against them for this news. 

Preventing Employee Retaliation and Protecting Your Business

Employee retaliation is prohibited by federal law and by many state laws. It also has a detrimental effect on workplace culture and productivity. To prevent employee retaliation and protect your business: 


  • Have clear written policies and enforce them consistently.
  • Use employee training and onboarding to explain that retaliation is illegal and that it will not be tolerated. 
  • Create a transparent, easy-to-follow process for employees to report suspected discrimination concerns. Address these promptly and show employees what you’re doing to address them. 

Make sure your business has the protection it needs, now and in the coming year. Get in touch with our team at Odell Studner today!