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What is retaliation?

In the case of a whistleblower situation, retaliation occurs if an employer or person of authority takes action against the employee solely because he or she brought information to light through proper channels. A number of industries include niche-specific channels for whistleblower reports, and employees in almost any workplace have a right to report issues of safety to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Under law, workers who report issues through such channels are protected from retaliation. Many times, the report itself is either anonymous or held confidential, but that doesn't mean employers can figure out who made the report. If the report centers on information or activities that were only known by select employees, process of elimination might be possible.

Extreme examples of retaliation include termination of employment or a contract, but retaliatory actions aren't always so obvious to spot. Holding an employee back in some way, such as limiting access to training without another reason, might be retaliation. Other actions that could be retaliation include unfavorable decisions in any administrative case where the facts or evidence don't warrant the decision, demotion, harassment, holding back a promotion without other cause and reduction of responsibilities in an effort to marginalize an employee.

No matter what form retaliation takes, if you feel you are a victim after reporting information to the proper authorities or supervisors, you have legal rights. Understand those rights and how to protect yourself against further negative action can reduce the stress you are dealing with and help you move through this time to a more positive situation. Working with a legal professional can help you stand up to employers or others without crossing legal lines yourself.

Source: Government Accountability Project, "What is a Whistleblower?," accessed Dec. 23, 2015

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