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Retaliation landmine

By Lynne Curry  bio

Everyone in your office knows she’s a problem.  She mouths off constantly and prefers chatting with coworkers to doing her job. You regret the day you hired her and when she makes one smart-aleck comment too many about your practice, you say “Look, you’re not happy here. I’ll have the bookkeeper draw up a final check. I wish you good luck.”

Big mistake. When you fire a problem employee for a smart aleck comment, you risk funding her early retirement. Retaliation claims are easier to prove than many other employee claims and constitute a fired employee’s number one weapon.

What’s retaliation?

Imagine you’re involved in a tricky legal situation and an employee leaks a story to a newspaper reporter accusing one of your physicians of ethical violations. Or picture how you’d feel about an employee who unfairly labels you a racist or calls you on the carpet for using the phrase “hey girls.” Or what if you’ve always been generous enough to your employees; weekly beer and pizza party and one employee accuses you of encouraging alcoholism.

Any of these situations might cause you to react. You might respond to your employee with a threatening comment, a written reprimand or suspension. If the employee making the comment has long been a problem, you might decide she or he has to go; because you haven’t documented prior problems now, begin to closely monitor your employee to get the documentation you need.

Retaliation refers to the protective actions employers tend to take when an employee or applicant files a discrimination complaint or protests a safety, employee rights or ethics issue. Managers understandably react when an employee’s protest seems to harm their company’s reputation, when an employee with atrocious work habits responds to discipline with charges of discrimination or when an employee can’t get along with one or more of their long-term employees due to long-tolerated problem behaviors that don’t seem a “big deal.”

Retaliation also occurs when a supervisor singles out an employee who protests against real or imagined discrimination or safety violations by more carefully monitoring that employee’s performance than the performance of other employees.

In short, if an employer retaliates a simple problem becomes a landmine and a nightmare.

What most employers don’t understand is that the law protects even employees who file unreasonable charges and unsuccessful claims, as long as the employee acts with a good faith belief that discrimination against themselves or other employees occurred. Employees can prove their claim by proving that an employer punished the employee shortly after the employee’s protected activity, particularly if the employer has only weak reasons for its discipline.

Lynne Curry, PhD, author of “Beating the Workplace Bully,” AMACOM 2016, and “Solutions” regularly presents to the Medical Group Management Association, Alaska Chapter and provides services to multiple medical practices and hospitals. You can contact Curry @

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.









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