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Civil Rights News | Jan. 31, 2023

Coast Guard Supervisors: Here are Best Practices for Preventing Retaliation

By Josh Love, Equal Employment Opportunity Zone Manager, Region 3, Civil Rights Directorate

Have you heard of someone accused of workplace discrimination that led to a civil rights complaint? What if the accused was a supervisor who believed they were innocent and confronted the employee with explaining their innocence or questioning why the employee filed a complaint in the first place? That same supervisor may even be tempted to punish or mistreat the employee for filing the complaint. In this scenario, the supervisor's actions may be considered illegal or prohibited retaliation. In plain language, retaliation occurs when a supervisor is perceived to be "getting even" with the employee by treating the employee less favorably for:

  • Reporting discrimination;
  • Participating in a discrimination case or investigation (even as a witness)
  • Opposing discrimination (for example, reporting harassment or unfair workplace treatment).

Retaliation is illegal, against Commandant Policy and the Coast Guard core values, and is detrimental to unit cohesion. If workplace retaliation is tolerated, it could prevent employees from reporting issues, undermine the Coast Guard complaint process, and ultimately condone a workplace that does not support the Commandant's Equal Opportunity Policies. So how can supervisors be sure to avoid instances of retaliatory behavior? Here are a few tips and best practices for supervisors and managers to help prevent retaliation:

  • Understand that filing a complaint is the member's or employee's due process for addressing their issues.
  • Know that it is a supervisor's responsibility to stop, address, and prevent retaliation.
  • Educate your employees about retaliation and that it's prohibited. Having an educated workforce who are aware of and understand their rights is beneficial for the entire service. Reviewing the Coast Guard Civil Rights Manual is a great place to start.  
  • Assure employees that supervisors will not punish them for actions protected by law or Coast Guard policy. It is in leadership's best interest to maintain a healthy and compliant work environment where employees feel comfortable reporting discrimination.
  • Respond to discrimination questions, concerns, and complaints promptly and effectively. Coast Guard Civil Rights Service Providers (CRSPs) are available to help military members and civilian employees understand civil rights processes.
  • Hold employees accountable for complying with and enforcing the Coast Guard's discrimination rules and policies.
  • Be transparent. When/if necessary, explain to your employee how you reached a decision or implemented an action that affected them. Problems arise when an employee feels unaware or "in the dark" regarding a decision that impacts the employee.   

Before making an employment decision that may negatively affect an employee who reported discrimination, assisted with a discrimination investigation or lawsuit, or opposed discrimination, ask yourself:

  • Am I holding this employee to stricter performance or behavioral standards now than I did before they filed a discrimination complaint, assisted with a discrimination investigation or lawsuit, or opposed discrimination?
  • Am I treating this employee differently than other employees who have broken similar rules?
  • Am I treating this employee differently than other employees with similar skills, abilities, or accomplishments?

If the answer to these questions is "yes," or if your decision is inconsistent with your past behavior or practices, determine whether you can support your decision consistent with the law or policy.

The total Coast Guard workforce must provide and engage in a fair and structured outlet to report, prevent, or process allegations of discrimination. Awareness of rights, supervisory responsibilities, civil rights law, and policies will reduce perceptions of retaliation and ensure compliance with the Commandant's Equal Opportunity Policy.