When discrimination, harassment and other illegal behavior happens at work, those who are targeted - as well as those who witness it - are often reluctant to speak up. Unfortunately, this reluctance often allows the problem to continue unchecked for far too long. By creating a company culture of openness and accountability, employers can help encourage workers to come forward without fear of retaliation.
Strong ethics policies encourage reporting
According to research from the Ethics and Compliance Initiative, a non-profit focused on promoting ethics and integrity in the business setting, there are several factors that can influence the likelihood that a worker who witnesses or experiences misconduct at work will report it.
One of the biggest among those factors is the culture of the company itself. At organizations that demonstrate a commitment to fairness and accountability at all levels, workers are more likely to report misconduct when they see it. When reporting of problematic behavior is encouraged and welcomed as an opportunity for improvement, workers are more likely to feel safe taking their concerns to their supervisors.
Conversely, when workers feel their complaints will be ignored - or worse, that they may result in retaliation - they are less likely to object to illegal behavior. The ECI research also shows that workers are more likely to report misconduct when it occurs infrequently. When misconduct is ongoing or pervasive at all levels of the company, employees are less likely to come forward than when sexual harassment, illegal discrimination or other forms of misconduct occur in isolation. This may be because of the perception that ongoing misconduct is accepted or even sanctioned by management.
A related factor affecting the likelihood that a worker will report misconduct is the role of the individual committing the misconduct. Generally, the higher up the chain of command the misconduct occurs, the less likely a worker is to report it. In other words, the misconduct of a supervisor, manager or other higher-level employee is more likely to go unreported than that of a non-manager. Again, this may be due to fears that the behavior is accepted or that reporting the misconduct could lead to job loss or other forms of retaliation.
Under both Florida law and federal statute, it is generally against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for reporting or objecting to unlawful discrimination or harassment, as well as other illegal activities such as fraud. Not only does the law protect workers from losing their jobs for reporting unlawful behavior, but it also protects them from other forms of retaliation such as:
- Being demoted
- Being denied a raise or promotion
- Having hours or pay reduced
- Being transferred or reassigned
Over the past several years, data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicate that the number of retaliation claims has been rising rapidly throughout the nation. This may indicate that U.S. workers are becoming better educated about their rights and more willing to take a stand when those rights are violated.
If you have suffered these or any other forms of mistreatment at work and you believe the mistreatment may be retaliatory in nature, it is a good idea to talk your situation over with an experienced employment lawyer. He or she can explain the law as it applies to your individual circumstances and advise you of the legal remedies that may be available.