By Meghan Droste, June 16, 2021
Have you ever secretly wanted to get revenge for something? Hoped that the coffee shop messes up the order of the person who cut in front of you? Blamed something on your sibling — and getting them in trouble — as a way to get back at them for taking something of yours? Decided not to go to a friend’s party because they didn’t go to yours?
I imagine that you all can think of at least one example of when you’ve wanted to get even with someone for some slight, real or perceived. It might not be the best look, but it’s a completely human response.
Now let’s change the question a little bit: Have you ever wanted to retaliate against an employee or coworker? I assume that most people will say no to that question. You’re probably thinking to yourself that you would never do that, you know it’s against the law and you’re just not the kind of person who would do that. While I do hope that all you thinking that are correct, and that you will never engage in retaliation, research shows that the same perfectly human desire for revenge can pop up once someone is accused of having engaged in discrimination or harassment. The person named in the complaint feels wronged and, unfortunately, may act on that feeling.
For the next few months, we’ll be taking a look at relation claims in the Tips From the Other Side. My first tip is — don’t. Don’t engage in retaliation. I know, that’s obvious and not much of a tip. But unfortunately it’s something that needs to be said. Retaliation has been the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the Federal sector for more than a decade. In the most recently available EEOC Annual Report on the Federal Workforce, retaliation was alleged in 51 percent of the 15,154 formal complaints filed in FY 2016. No matter how much we all want to believe that we would never engage in retaliation, it is clearly a very real issue.
My next tip is to make sure your agency is providing sufficient training and information to managers. As the EEOC has noted, it is “important for federal agencies to help their managers understand the behaviors associated with retaliation by incorporating this information into organizational training … Often, managers are not prepared for the inevitable conflicts associated with managing human relations within the work setting.” See Retaliation – Making it Personal, available here. Agencies should also provide information managers at the outset of the complaint process that acknowledges “the potential emotional response involved with being accused of a discriminatory action, as well as the problematic implications of seeking to avenge any perceived offense.” See id. This information should help managers take a step back and think before taking any retaliatory actions. Droste@FELTG.com
[Editor’s Note: Want more guidance? Register for the 60-minute webinar EEO Reprisal: Handle It, Don’t Fear It, part of our annual Supervisory Webinar Series. It takes place on August 24, from 1-2 pm ET]