Retaliation as a result of a sexual harassment complaint is all too common in the workplace. Often times the victim of harassment faces much more stress and damage in the aftermath of a complaint than they got from the original harassment. Many studies have shown that as many as 50% of harassment victims were more traumatized by the aftermath than they were by the actual harassment. It is imperative that all companies have training in the area of retaliation as part of their harassment training classes.
Retaliation occurs when the accused employee and/or his colleagues and friends within the organization act in a threatening manner or withhold job related benefits, advancement or materials/information essential to the employees job as punishment for reporting the perpetrator. An employee who reports harassment might find it difficult to advance within the company or to receive the assistance from co-workers essential to completing their job. In extreme cases, they may even be subjected to more harassment or termination.
Although it is hard to prove, retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint is as illegal as the original harassment. A victim must prove that the supervisor or co-worker knew that the victim filed a complaint. Then, the supervisor must make an adverse employment decision such as termination, demotion or loss of responsibility. Lastly, there must be a link between the two actions. In other words, if there is evidence that the termination or demotion would have occurred anyway then the complainant would not have a case. The adverse employment decision must be a direct result of the harassment complaint. However, if for example, the victim had a perfect record with glowing performance reviews and then was terminated after filing a harassment complaint, then there would be solid evidence of retaliation.
It is imperative that all employees provide training to prevent retaliation as part of their sexual harassment training program. A comprehensive program that covers all aspects of sexual harassment law should be implemented in every organization.