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Civil Rights News | Feb. 14, 2023

Managers and supervisors: Here are the do's and don'ts of retaliation

By Amy Icenogle, Acting Regional Deputy Director, Region 4, Civil Rights Directorate

For management officials, receiving an Equal Employment Opportunity/Equal Opportunity (EEO/EO) complaint can be frustrating and may create tension within the workplace that ultimately affects mission readiness. Supervisors may want to confront the person who filed the complaint or take some sort of action against them. Don’t do it! Any actions taken may be illegal retaliation and could make the situation worse.   

These do’s and don’ts of retaliation can help management officials stop and navigate any potential instances of retaliation.


Know your responsibilities - Supervisors have many roles and responsibilities that when carried out, help their workforce and the organization succeed. Key to this is maintaining a discrimination-free workplace where every member of and applicant to the Coast Guard has the opportunity to excel. Thus, it’s important to know that it is illegal to retaliate against an employee for engaging in a protected activity. A protected activity could be filing a complaint, participating in a discrimination investigation, or opposing discrimination (i.e. threatening to file a complaint, reporting as a witness, etc.). 

Maintain complaint privacy - The EEO process is “need to know.” Supervisors must not publicly discuss a complaint, forward emails about a complaint, or in any way share information about a complaint with those who do not have a “need to know”. 

Be transparent with expectations - Setting expectations and keeping employees informed of relevant decisions and reasons actions were taken can create mutual understanding between employees. Transparency can also build trust within the workplace. 

Treat employees consistently - Supervisors must ensure that they are providing the same information, equipment, benefits, and privileges to an employee after they’ve engaged in a protected activity. All employees, regardless of their engagement in a protected activity, should be treated the same with regards to work product, leave requests, awards, duty, and so on.

Communicate often with Civil Rights Service Providers (CRSP) - Coast Guard CRSPs are available to help management officials understand their civil rights responsibilities, processes, and laws. Frequent communication with a local CRSP can help guarantee that the workplace is a fair and compliant one.

Stop Reported Behaviors and Document Events – Supervisors have an important role to play in stopping retaliatory behaviors and actions. Open communication with the workforce can help identify any potential EEO/EO issues that must be addressed by a supervisor. When any EEO/EO concerns arise, it’s important to document any events and record any actions taken, not taken, and include justifications for taking those actions. Should there be a retaliation claim later on, evidence will be available that can help validate any decisions made.


Interfere with the EEO process - Employees are allowed a reasonable amount of time to meet with an EEO Counselor when filing a complaint. Supervisors shouldn’t unnecessarily control when an employee meets with a Counselor or prepares their formal complaint. During the investigation, management officials will be given the opportunity to share their side of the story, so it’s important to allow the EEO process to continue without delay or interference.  

Criticize or threaten employees for filing a complaint - Criticizing an employee for filing a complaint can cause what’s known as the “chilling effect” and discourages the workforce’s ability to raise a concern through the EEO/EO process and is retaliation.

Discipline employees for filing a complaint - Employees have the right to engage in a protected activity without fear of retaliation. If an employee files a complaint based on discrimination or harassment and a supervisor then disciplines that employee for doing so, those actions may be considered retaliatory. 

Take frustrations out on employee filing the complaint - Taking frustrations out on the employee filing the complaint can lead to a lack of cohesion, loss in productivity and trust, and create a negative work environment.

Delay responses to discrimination concerns and complaints - Supervisors must make every effort to address discrimination concerns and complaints right away. Ignoring reports and hoping the issue goes away will only cause bigger problems in the future.

For questions about retaliation or other EEO/EO topics, please contact a local Civil Rights Service Provider