Coast Guard Headquarters –
Beginning today, the Civil Rights Directorate kicks off an Anti-Retaliation Campaign that will educate and inform the Coast Guard workforce about workplace retaliation. Stay tuned to the Civil Rights Directorate website from January 17th to March 1st for content covering topics like what employees’ rights and responsibilities are, how to remedy a suspected retaliation situation, how managers and supervisors can avoid retaliation, and much more. To start, let’s talk about what retaliation is:
What is Retaliation?
Every member of the Coast Guard’s military and civilian workforce and all applicants for employment have the right to engage in the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint process. The EEO/EO complaint process includes reporting workplace discrimination or harassment, filing an official discrimination complaint, or participating in an investigation of harassment.
Retaliation, also known as reprisal, occurs when an employee receives negative treatment or disciplinary consequences from managers, supervisors, or even other coworkers, because they took part in this process. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination, considers participating in the complaint process to be a protected activity. This means that employees may engage in the EEO/EO complaint process without fear of an adverse reaction by supervisors or employers.
What It Looks Like
Behavior that can be perceived as retaliatory might include:
- Refusal to communicate with an employee after the employee filed an EEO/EO complaint
- Avoidance of usual interactions, even greeting the employee in a different manner
- Isolation or threat toward an employee
- Assignment of more unfavorable tasks or duties than normal
- Take adverse personnel actions against an employee for filing an EEO/EO complaint, including: termination, demotion or lack of promotion, discipline, or poor performance reviews
- Making unfavorable changes in assignments, work hours, or duties
- Public expression of dissatisfaction with an employee who files a complaint
Comments discouraging an employee from participating in the EEO/EO process also violate the law. A specific example includes a supervisor telling their subordinate, “It would not be in your best interest to file that complaint.” Even if such a comment were meant to provide helpful advice, it would still be considered unlawful because it could discourage participation in the complaint process.
Why does this matter?
Retaliating against employees who speak up about discriminatory practices or engage in the EEO/EO process is illegal. The law, outlined in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 1614.101, specifically prohibits retaliation for opposing any practice made unlawful by or participating in the processes outlined in the following:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Equal Pay Act
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
Retaliatory actions degrade performance and mission execution and are incompatible with the Coast Guard’s Core Values. It can be hard for employees to exert their rights in the first place, so if they see coworkers being punished for doing so, it can deter others from engaging in activities that the laws are designed to protect.
Across the federal government, retaliation is consistently among the most common alleged bases for discrimination.
Since FY20, the Coast Guard averaged:
- 70 claims based on retaliation per year in EEO/EO Complaints.
- 18 incidents based on retaliation per year in Anti-Harassment/Hate Incident Cases.
The Coast Guard’s Anti-Retaliation Campaign will proactively engage the workforce to educate and inform managers and supervisors that retaliation is not tolerated and to provide them with anti-retaliation resources such as training, fact sheets, and more. Concurrently, non-supervisory employees will learn what retaliation is, what their rights and responsibilities are, how to access more information and assistance, and how to address a suspected retaliation occurrence.
Coming up in the next anti-retaliation article, Coast Guard military members and civilian employees will learn how they can spot and report instances of retaliation. For additional information on retaliation and the Coast Guard Discrimination Complaint Process, contact your local Civil Rights Service Provider.