What is a Policy of Non-Retaliation & How to Create One

Marcie Wilmot

Certified Resume Writer, Career Coach, Business Writer

Your company probably has many policies in place – anti-discrimination policies, equal opportunity policies, ethics policies, and so on. However, it is important to re-evaluate whether you have a policy that covers every situation. Say for instance one of your employees submit a complaint in good faith to their supervisor. To their surprise, they are met with retaliation, such as demotion, defamation, or even termination.

This could potentially become a large-scale issue, especially considering that it could have been prevented with a simple non-retaliation policy. What is a non-retaliation policy, you ask? Keep reading to learn what a non-retaliation policy is and how to create a policy that stops retaliation in its tracks.

What is Retaliation in the Workplace?

First, let’s define retaliation. Retaliation occurs when an employee experiences backlash after inquiring about, reporting, or participating in a company investigation. The party that carries out the retaliatory action is trying to intimidate or punish the person(s) involved in reporting the complaint. While retaliation can come in many forms, some of the most common are:

  • Loss of promotions or raises
  • Reassignments
  • Suspension
  • Social exclusion 
  • Negative evaluations
  • Defamation
  • Retraction of benefits
  • Reduced pay
  • Threats
  • Termination
  • Victimization (bullying; physical, sexual, or verbal abuse; assault)

We often see these retaliatory actions in cases of harassment, discrimination, fraud, or safety infractions. Other common reasons include:

  • Reports of company actions that harm the environment
  • Requests for parental (or other types of) leave
  • Participation in an investigation involving violations or misconduct
  • Initiation of lawsuits involving termination for cause or wrongful dismissal 

Because of retaliation, many employees find themselves deciding between doing the right thing and saving their own job. This can lead to a toxic work environment with high levels of distrust and employees that hate their jobs.

What is a Policy of Non-Retaliation?

In short, a policy of non-retaliation protects any current or former employees (even job applicants) who come forward to initiate a complaint. It ensures that everyone feels safe reporting questionable behavior. Because of this, a policy of non-retaliation supports a work environment that is free of fear, intimidation, and victimization.

In fact, without putting a policy of non-retaliation in place, all the other policies in your handbook won’t mean much. Why? Because bullies, abusers, and harassers will simply attempt to silence any naysayers. Then they go on engaging in their destructive behavior. If a non-retaliation policy exists, there will be consequences for their bad actions, hopefully putting an end to it.

Why is it So Important?

While there are many state and federal laws that protect whistleblowers (someone who tells either an internal or external entity about an organization or person engaging in illicit behavior), it’s essential that companies have their own non-retaliation policies in place. This shows your employees that your company is serious about protecting anyone who comes forward. A non-retaliation policy also acts as a serious deterrent to anyone who is thinking about doing something unethical or immoral – they’ll know that there’s a real possibility they will get in trouble for their actions.   

Another reason why it’s so important to have a policy for non-retaliation is to avoid lawsuits and protect your employer brand.  There are laws on both the state and federal levels that make retaliation illegal. So, if this sort of behavior is taking place at your company, you’re setting yourself up for legal issues, which can be expensive and damage your company’s reputation.

How to Construct a Policy of Non-Retaliation?

Employer signing off on the company's new non-retaliation policy

So you’ve decided that your company needs a non-retaliation policy in its employee handbook. What now? What are the steps you should take to create one? Let’s dive into all the details.

Note that you can opt to write your own policy from scratch or use a professional template that can be tweaked to fit your needs. If you decide to write the policy yourself, it’s best to keep it short and sweet so your employees can easily understand it. Use everyday language instead of legal terminology or complicated terms.

Consider including a list of the behaviors the company protects from retaliation in the policy. These might include when someone:

  • reports alleged discrimination or harassment
  • participates in a pending investigation
  • requests reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious reason
  • disobeys an unlawful order by a supervisor
  • refuses unwanted sexual advances (or protects others from this)

Your policy must also explain the procedure an employee should take to report an instance of retaliation. Provide contact information (like phone numbers and websites) for your HR department to make it easy for them to start the process. In addition, you should spell out how the retaliatory behavior will be documented and what the resulting disciplinary action(s) will be. Finally, indicate what kind of proof someone will need to furnish when they make the complaint. 

Tips & Best Practices

When you go to create your non-retaliation policy, it’s helpful to learn from those who came before you rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. See below for some tips and best practices that will assist you in building a policy that enables your employees to feel comfortable reporting actionable behavior.

  1. Write clearly and concisely – Make sure your policy is easy to read and comprehend. Use everyday language, and avoid technical/legal jargon.
  2. Check with a lawyer – Whether you write the policy from scratch or from a vetted template, run it by your lawyer before putting it in the handbook.
  3. Include action items for HR – The HR department should know exactly what to do (and when to do it) if someone reports retaliatory behavior. They should also be able to act as a communicator and convey what each party’s obligations are, the potential penalties, and so on.
  4. Include a simple reporting process – The policy should explain what the procedure is for an employee to report a retaliatory action. Be sure it includes contact information.
  5. Include the policy in your employee handbook – Putting the policy in the handbook makes it easy for employees to find it.
  6. Document the retaliatory behavior – Be sure the policy outlines a process to document and preserve any proof of the alleged retaliatory behavior, as well as the corresponding discipline.
  7. Accompany the policy with training – Mandatory training sessions to break down the new policy ensures that everyone is informed and aware.

Additional Ways to Avoid Retaliation in Workplace

Having a non-retaliation policy is a great first step to take if you want to discourage retaliation and create a safe working environment. But is there anything else you can do? Yes! Model the right behavior from the top down. Behavior, ideals, and culture all flow from the top down, so don’t condone or overlook bad behavior from ANYONE. Instead, leaders should model the kind of behavior they want to see in others throughout the company.

Finally, educate your employees about what retaliation is, how to identify and report it, and what the penalties are for these kinds of actions. Train the leaders in your company on what it is and how to prevent it. Make it clear that your company won’t tolerate retaliatory behavior, and then don’t! Trust us, if you follow the above guidance, you’ll be well on your way to creating an ethical and safe environment for all of your employees – just what they need to thrive!

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