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Retaliation: legal ramifications and practical implications of discriminatory acts in the workplace

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Purpose ‐ Retaliation complaints in the workplace have increased 71 percent in the past ten years with a record high of more than 32,000 complaints filed in 2008. The purpose of this paper is to review retaliation legislation to clarify for employers and employees the protected provisions and provide guidance for complying with this important anti-discrimination statute to aid in promoting a fair and unbiased work environment. Design/methodology/approach ‐ This paper reviews retaliation claims in cases of US employment discrimination including the central elements and covered individuals. It also reviews key recent rulings that have broadened what constitutes retaliation to better understand its impact in workforce management practices. Equity and organizational justice theories are drawn upon to address performance management and employee discipline issues that may arise in the workplace and how organizational action may be impacted by the retaliation statute. Findings ‐ Retaliation is often considered to be an overt act (e.g. demotion or termination) but this review demonstrates that adverse employment actions need not be overt or result from loss of job or wages by the employee. This review can be used to avoid costly litigation but also convey that retaliation statutes do not unduly influence the employer's right to discipline employees. Originality/value ‐ This paper helps practitioners and researchers better understand retaliation and its purpose in preventing unfair work practices. This historical review of retaliation should help improve employer policies and procedures as well as training efforts in complying with equal employment opportunity laws without compromising concerns related to productivity or disciplinary procedures.

Keywords: Case law; Discrimination in employment; Legislation; United States of America

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02610151011074416

Publication date: September 17, 2010

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