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Retaliation Spurs Employee Lawsuits
Monday, April 28, 2014 6:45 AM

Would your employees feel safe reporting that they’d been victims or witnesses of another employee’s misconduct? Fear of retaliation can discourage employees from coming forward. And for good reason: Retaliation appears to be a pervasive problem among U.S. employers.

The number of employees reporting employer retaliation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has increased steadily since 2005. Retaliation was the most common complaint to the EEOC in 2013, rising almost 2 percent from 2012, even while the total number of complaints for all categories (race and sex discrimination, sexual harassment, etc.) dropped 5.7 percent over the same period.

“To truly protect employees who report discrimination, harassment, or other misconduct—and to protect your credit union, the alleged perpetrator(s), witnesses, and anyone else involved in such a charge—a prompt, discreet, thorough investigation of the initial complaint isn’t enough,” says Carlos Molina, risk management consultant with CUNA Mutual Group. “You must also establish a policy prohibiting retaliation against anyone involved. And you must give employees a clear procedure to follow if they believe they’ve been victims of retaliation.”

As an employer, Molina says your due diligence includes investigating charges of wrongdoing while protecting the privacy of everyone involved as best you can.

Here are a few initial steps you can take to protect employees from retaliation while protecting their privacy:

  1. Define retaliation in writing and require employees to acknowledge they’ve read the policy. Among the employment policies that all employees are required to read and sign, specifically prohibit retaliation and spell out what that means. For example, an employee who reports misconduct such as theft, fraud, discrimination, or harassment may not be fired, demoted, denied benefits or promotions, deliberately intimidated or otherwise mistreated as a result of the complaint.
  2. Assure a safe means of reporting wrongdoing. Give employees a clear path to reporting potential retaliation that allows them to circumvent the accused parties or anyone else who could handle the report unfairly. Include the choice of a neutral third party to receive retaliation complaints, such as a whistleblower hotline, your state’s department of labor, or the EEOC. Clearly post the complaint procedures in your offices, employee manual, and intranet.
  3. Conduct regular training. Require officers and managers to be trained regularly in how to handle an employee’s report of retaliation. Teach them who to notify first, how to initiate a prompt, discreet investigation, and how to treat all parties involved while the matter is resolved.

“These steps protect your employees, and they also protect your credit union from an extra exposure to risk that retaliation creates. Employers can be sued or otherwise penalized for retaliating against an employee involved in reporting wrongdoing—even if the report is proven false,” he adds. “Retaliation is a serious legal matter, but it’s also a matter of trust. Create an environment where your employees know it’s safe to do the right thing.”

 

Helpful Resources: HR training and consulting services available through Credit Union Resources.