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How widespread is employer retaliation?

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2022 | Employee Rights

Several laws protect federal employees from various forms of discrimination. When employees believe they’ve suffered because of discrimination, these laws allow them to hold their agencies accountable. But then, all too often, managers or others within the agencies turn around and retaliate against the employees.

The result is that more feds file claims for wrongful retaliation than for any other form of discrimination. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) keeps records of federal discrimination statistics. Their numbers show retaliation has been the most common form of discrimination since 2008, and it has featured in more than half of all complaints since 2018.

Why is retaliation so common?

As the EEOC notes elsewhere, employees are often successful with their retaliation claims even when their underlying claims are not successful. This means that agencies cleared of discrimination claims often break the rules – and get caught – by retaliating against the employees who filed those claims.

If you think about it, this makes no sense as a matter of business. It’s just not logical to win a case and then turn around and throw your victory out the window with a different violation. But the EEOC makes it clear that retaliation isn’t about logic.

Instead, the EEOC explored the psychology of retaliation and said, essentially, that managers may feel hurt by employees who accuse them of wrongful behavior. Depending on several personality traits, the managers may seek to “restore equilibrium.” This basically means seeking to get one up on the employee. It’s typically not a wise or calculated move, and the EEOC lists several signs that managers are more likely to retaliate:

  • Sense of entitlement
  • Authoritarian tendencies
  • Focused on hierarchical structures
  • Organizational focus on competition
  • Able to isolate employees easily

Importantly, the EEOC notes that agencies are more likely to retaliate against employees when the underlying claims have a great deal of weight. In other words, the more a discrimination claim may hurt the agency – or could hurt officials within the agency – the more likely the claim will hurt someone’s feelings. And those injured people are more likely to retaliate.

Retaliation takes many forms

The most obvious forms of retaliation are likely firings and poor performance reviews, but those are far from the only ways agencies may retaliate. Any adverse actions that agencies take in response to protected disclosures could be retaliatory. The question is often if those actions aim to discourage future disclosures.

So, if you’re thinking about filing a discrimination claim, it’s important to think about protecting your future interests. You don’t want managers talking you down when you seek a promotion or padding your employee file with negative notes. An experienced attorney can help you protect yourself against potential retaliation before you file a discrimination claim. The more serious your claim, the more important it is to protect your future interests.


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