What are the Signs of Work Retaliation?

April 30, 2024

Retaliation in the workplace is a serious issue that can have significant consequences for both employees and employers. Understanding the signs of retaliation is crucial for creating a healthy work environment where everyone feels respected and valued.

In this article, we will explore what constitutes retaliation, why it's important to recognize and address it, and how you can take steps to prevent and address retaliation in your workplace.

What is Retaliation in the Workplace?

Retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity, such as reporting discrimination or harassment, participating in an investigation, or exercising their legal rights.

Importance of Recognizing and Addressing Retaliation

Recognizing and addressing retaliation is essential for maintaining a fair and inclusive workplace. Failing to address retaliation can decrease morale, productivity, and employee engagement, as well as expose employers to legal liability.

Understanding Retaliation

Definition and Legal Framework

Retaliation is prohibited under various federal and state laws, including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California Labor Code, and the California Family Rights Act as a few examples.

These laws protect employees from retaliation for engaging in protected activity related to discrimination, harassment, or other unlawful employment practices.

Types of Retaliation (Overt and Covert)

Retaliation can take many forms, ranging from overt actions such as termination or demotion to more covert behaviors such as exclusion or micromanagement. To address retaliation effectively in the workplace, it's essential to recognize both the obvious and subtle signs of it.

Examples of Retaliatory Behaviors

Retaliatory behaviors can manifest in various ways, including changes in treatment or behavior, withdrawal of opportunities or benefits, creation of a hostile work environment, and social exclusion and ostracism. Let's explore some common examples in more detail.

Examples of Retaliation at Work

a woman in white formal shirt standing up while talking during a work meeting while her coworkers listens

Subtle Changes in Treatment or Behavior

1. Isolation or Exclusion from Team Activities

One of the signs of retaliation at work is being excluded from team activities or meetings you were previously included in. This can be a subtle way for employers to ostracize employees who have engaged in protected activity.

2. Sudden Negative Performance Evaluations

Another common sign of retaliation is receiving sudden negative performance evaluations or disciplinary actions following protected activity. Employers may use performance reviews as a pretext for retaliatory actions, so it's essential to document any sudden changes in feedback or treatment.

Withdrawal of Opportunities or Benefits

1. Denial of Promotions or Raises

Employees who have engaged in a protected activity may also experience retaliation in the form of denied opportunities for advancement or pay raises. If you notice a pattern of being passed over for promotions or raises despite meeting qualifications, it could be a sign of retaliation.

2. Removal of Responsibilities or Privileges

Similarly, employers may retaliate by stripping employees of responsibilities or privileges they previously enjoyed. This can include taking away desirable assignments, removing decision-making authority, or revoking access to company resources.

Hostile Work Environment

1. Increased Criticism or Micromanagement

Retaliation can create a hostile work environment characterized by increased criticism, micromanagement, or unreasonable expectations. Employers may scrutinize the work of employees who have engaged in protected activity more closely or subject them to unfair treatment.

2. Verbal Abuse or Intimidation

In extreme cases, retaliation may involve verbal abuse or intimidation intended to intimidate or silence employees who have spoken out against discrimination or other unlawful practices. This can create a toxic work environment that negatively impacts employee well-being and morale.

Social Exclusion and Ostracism

1. Exclusion from Meetings or Events

Retaliation may also involve social exclusion, such as being excluded from meetings, events, or social gatherings you were previously invited to. This can send a clear message of disapproval or punishment for engaging in protected activity.

2. Gossip or Spreading False Rumors

Additionally, coworkers or supervisors may engage in gossip or spread false rumors about employees who have reported discrimination or harassment. This behavior can further isolate and ostracize employees, making them feel unwelcome or unsupported in the workplace.

Documenting Retaliation

Importance of Keeping Detailed Records

Documenting retaliation is essential for building a strong case and protecting your rights as an employee. Keeping detailed records of incidents, including dates, witnesses, and specific actions taken, can provide valuable evidence in the event of legal action.

Examples of What to Document

When documenting retaliation, be sure to record any instances of adverse treatment or behavior, as well as any communications or interactions related to your protected activity. This may include emails, memos, performance evaluations, and witness statements.

Tools and Methods for Documenting Retaliation

There are various tools and methods you can use to document retaliation, including maintaining a journal or diary of incidents, saving relevant documents and communications, and seeking support from colleagues or allies who can corroborate your experiences.

Reporting Retaliation

Internal Reporting Mechanisms

If you believe you are experiencing retaliation in the workplace, it's essential to report it through internal channels, such as human resources or management. Many companies have policies and procedures in place for addressing complaints of retaliation and protecting employees from further harm.

Utilizing HR or Management Channels

When reporting retaliation, be prepared to provide specific details and evidence to support your claims. It may also be helpful to seek guidance from an experienced employment attorney like Freeburg and Granieri, who can advise you on your rights and options for recourse.

Seeking External Support

In some cases, reporting retaliation internally may not be sufficient to address the issue. If you believe your employer is unwilling or unable to address your concerns, it may also be necessary to seek external support from legal counsel or regulatory agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Department of Labor (DOL).

Preventing and Addressing Retaliation

Creating a Culture of Transparency and Accountability

Preventing retaliation requires creating a culture of transparency and accountability where employees feel comfortable reporting concerns without fear of reprisal. Employers should communicate clear expectations regarding acceptable behavior and consequences for retaliation.

Implementing Anti-Retaliation Policies and Training Programs

Employers can also take proactive steps to prevent retaliation by implementing anti-retaliation policies and providing regular training for managers and employees. These initiatives can help raise awareness of retaliation issues and ensure everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.

Promptly Addressing Reported Incidents and Providing Support to Victims

Finally, employers must promptly address reported incidents of retaliation and provide support to victims. This may include conducting thorough investigations, taking appropriate disciplinary action against perpetrators, and offering resources and assistance to affected employees.

Freeburg and Granieri APC: Your Partner in Employment Law

At Freeburg & Granieri APC, we understand the importance of protecting your rights in the workplace. Our experienced attorneys specialize in employment law, including cases involving retaliation and employment discrimination.

When you choose our firm, you can trust that your case will be handled with the care and attention it deserves. We pride ourselves on providing personalized representation and fighting tirelessly for our clients' rights.

Don't let retaliation go unchecked—contact Freeburg & Granieri APC today for a consultation.


an image showing a work retaliation claim form

In conclusion, recognizing and addressing retaliation in the workplace is essential for maintaining a fair and inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued and respected.

By understanding the signs of retaliation, documenting incidents, and reporting concerns through appropriate channels, individuals can protect their rights and hold employers accountable for unlawful behavior.

When in doubt or for further help, contact a qualified attorney, such as Freeburg & Granieri for help with handling your case.


Contact us

Our clients become friends, confidants, and repeat customers. Former clients are our best referral source.

Do not be a commodity, find an attorney who treats your legal issue with the care it deserves.

Centered in Pasadena and serving all of California – including, but not limited to, Fresno County (Clovis, Fresno, San Joaquin); Kern County (Arvin, Bakersfield, Delano, Mojave, Tehachapi); Los Angeles County (Alhambra, Burbank, Calabasas, Encino, Glendale, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, San Gabriel, Santa Monica, Torrance, Whittier); Mono County (June Lake, Mammoth Lakes); Riverside County (Coachella, Corona, Indian Wells, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Riverside, Temecula); San Bernardino County (Barstow, Big Bear Lake, Chino, Fontana, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Yucca Valley); San Diego County (Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Encinitas, Oceanside, San Diego); San Luis Obispo County (Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Cambria, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo); Stanislaus County (Ceres, Modesto, Oakdale, Turlock, Riverbank, Salida); Ventura County (Camarillo, Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Ventura)
Mon : 8:00am - 6:00pm
Tue: 8:00am - 6:00pm
Wed: 8:00am - 6:00pm
Thurs: 8:00am - 6:00pm
Fri: 8:00am - 6:00pm
Sat & Sun: Closed
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram