How to Avoid Retaliation in the Wake of an Internal Investigation

Anti-retaliation policies and training must target both employees and managers

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on July 10th, 2014

When can something as minor as excluding an employee from a meeting cost a company millions of dollars? When the employee is a whistleblower or involved in an internal investigation. If managers don’t know how to avoid retaliation, or even what actions could be considered retaliatory, a company can be exposed to serious risk.

Have Two Policies

But there’s more to avoiding retaliation claims than ensuring managers know what behavior to avoid. You need to have a good policy on retaliation, say the experts. It should be a standalone policy that explains how to avoid retaliation and defines what retaliation is and what it isn’t.

It should describe the specific behaviors that constitute retaliation. Many managers don’t understand that excluding someone from a meeting or not considering them for opportunities – such as travel – can amount to retaliation. They may be under the impression that retaliation occurs only when you fire someone, but that’s not the case.

Some companies also have a separate document outlining reporting procedures. Alongside information on how and when to report, the document should assure employees that if they do come forward to report wrongdoing they will not experience retaliation.

Provide Training for Employees and Managers

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An anti-retaliation program should include training on what behavior could be seen as retaliatory and what behavior is not considered retaliatory. It should also stress that employees have an obligation and a duty to speak up when they see something wrong.

Some companies provide online training, but experts stress the importance of face-to-face interaction as part of the training process, so that trainers can discuss with employees their duty to report and explain the importance the company places on having a culture that encourages it.

Face-to-face training also provides the opportunity to teach managers what to do when they receive complaints, because managers are the critical link for whistleblowers. Most internal complaints are received by managers, not via hotlines, So ensuring managers are equipped with the knowledge and training to handle employee complaints is critical.

Anti-Retaliation Incentives

Employees who come forward with complaints are valuable to the company and should be treated in a way that shows them their value. Sometimes a simple thank-you can go a long way in making an employee feel they did the right thing by coming forward. At other times, some sort of reward could be offered to employees who make the effort to come forward to report wrongdoing. Managers should be trained to make whistleblowers feel appreciated and to encourage open dialogue. Since whistleblowing has such a negative connotation, instilling an anti-retaliation regime may require a change in company culture, and this can be hard work.

And all that work can be undone by a manager who doesn’t understand the importance of every action he or she takes. Because no matter how much time and effort a company puts into providing mechanisms and incentives for employees to report wrongdoing, one act of retaliation can close up the communication pipeline and land a company in the middle of an expensive lawsuit.


Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.