5 Steps to Take if you Suspect Drug Abuse by an Employee

5 Steps to Take if you Suspect Drug Abuse by an Employee

Drug abuse by an employee within the workplace, or perhaps even outside of it depending on the type and regularity of usage, can pose a significant risk of harm to both the individual and the organisation. It compromises the health and safety of both the employee in question as well their co-workers and can also impact the company on a financial and social level.

It’s an issue that many employers are likely to face – in fact, in the past year alone approximately 1 in every 11 workers in the US struggled with substance or alcohol use. However, the situation is inevitably a delicate one and must be addressed with caution by the employer to prevent causing undue stress or blame.

Employee drug abuse is detrimental to both employee and company

Signs of an employee’s drug usage

Being aware of the signs of any potential drug abuse can help the employer spot issues earlier and potentially resolve the situation before it’s no longer possible. However, navigating between what signs point to genuine drug abuse is tricky and there is no one sign that can guarantee your suspicions.

It’s also important that the manner in which an employee is impacted by drug abuse can take on many different forms. Hence, it’s essential for an employer to take the following signs not as concrete proof but rather as an indication that further investigation is needed.

Possible signs of employee drug abuse can include (but are not limited to):

1. A drop in productivity

If an employee’s otherwise consistent performance takes a hit then it can be a cause of concern – decreased work output and quality is a fairly common sign in employee drug abuse situations. However, on its own, it can also be a sign of many other circumstances, so while taking note of this sign is a good idea, it’s best not to make hasty conclusions either.

2. Increased absences 

More days off and excessive tardiness from someone who was usually on time is another common sign to look out for.

3. Physical changes

Physical changes can be to their outward appearance or/and their motor and speech skills. Some examples include:

      • Severe lack of grooming
      • Pallid complexion 
      • Unclean clothing and unpleasant odours (in particular, the smell of chemicals, alcohol etc.)
      • Slurred or incoherent speech
      • Unsteady on their feet
      • Bloodshot, watery or glassy eyes

4. Changes to their personality at work

Drug abuse can present a host of changes to mood and the way this manifests in each individual can vary but there are similarities that can be helpful. For example:

      • Increased irritability and mood swings
      • Aggression and hostility for no apparent reason
      • Appearing sleepy or hyperactive
      • Being disrespectful to their coworkers
      • Issues with teamwork 

Consequences of drug usage by an employee

Drug abuse by an employee risks the health and safety of all employees in the workplace. It also poses risks for the company itself.

These can include:

      • Increased risk of workplace-related injuries and accidents and resulting costs 
      • Time cost resulting from increased absences, tardiness and lowered productivity 
      • Poor employee relationships and teamwork
      • Lower workplace morale
      • Decreased quality of work
      • An additional burden to other employees to take on more responsibilities to meet deadlines 
      • Increased employee turnover rates
employee drug abuse can be difficult to spot

What steps you can take if you suspect an employee is using drugs?

1. Document suspicious signs and behaviour

Being able to point to a specific time, date, and situation when required is very important in making sure you are able to move from mere suspicion to actively addressing the problem. Having any noteworthy changes or events such as tardiness or decreased attention will also be necessary when talking to the employee or another relevant authority to demonstrate that you are not acting without reason.

2. Review your alcohol and drug policy 

The company’s drug and alcohol policy will help guide the actions you take and the limitations you may face. One important factor will be the company policy on drug tests and the criteria that must be met before asking an employee to undertake one. Similarly, the policy must clearly define the consequences for various forms of drug use violations.

3. Approach the employee

When meeting with the employee, make sure that you are not confrontational or accusing in your approach. It’s best to have another person of authority present and an additional note taker to document the meeting. You should also allow the employee to have a support person present if they choose to do so, though this person should not speak on behalf of the employee.

After presenting your concerns and observations, allow the employee to discuss their perspectives. Make sure to be open about what would come next and what their options are. 

4. Request a drug test

Based on your company policy and the content of the meeting, you can request the employee to submit an approved drug test. Any action after the drug test results are released, whether positive or negative, should be in accordance with what is laid out by the company policy. This also applies in the situation where the employee refuses to take a drug test.

5. Do your best to help the employee

If the employee admits to drug abuse or the test results are positive, an employer can do certain things to help them out. Create a plan for the employee, with their input, that includes interventional actions such as professional help and changes to work duties.

When doing this, make sure to remove the employee from any tasks that are safety-sensitive and could endanger them or other employees. Monitor the progress of the employee and if there seems to be no improvement, it may be time to seek any relevant disciplinary action as dictated by company policy.

Book a Demo Now

 Learn more about how Polonious can help you protect your organisation and employees from the consequences of drug abuse.

Drug abuse within the workplace is an issue that can be challenging to address. For this reason, having a clear and comprehensive drug and alcohol abuse policy is crucial for navigating such situations for the best possible outcomes. As an employer, it’s important not to jump to conclusions and carry out a fair investigative process.

It’s also a good idea to cover drug and alcohol abuse as part of your training for employees so that they are aware not only of the consequences but how to seek help from both the company and externally should they need it.

How to ensure efficient compliance in your organisation

How to ensure efficient compliance in your organisation

Efficient compliance

 Every business was once a small business. To grow, businesses learnt to eliminate inefficiencies or work around them. However, successful entities have found ways to become efficient in most parts of their operations. Efficient compliance is crucial as it provides many benefits to small businesses and prevents them from getting in trouble. Without finding efficient ways to achieve compliance it can be quite a big administration or paperwork burden. Compliance is necessary for every organisation as there are many rules surrounding business operations. Trying to make compliance efficient might be slightly more complex than other processes. 


How to increase efficient compliance

There are many steps a small business can take to make compliance more efficient:

-Smart recruitment 

-Use of tools

-Standardising procedures

-Implement a framework


Smart recruitment 

 When hiring new staff, it is important to have a clear job description so the candidates are aware of what their responsibilities will be. If the employees will be multi-tasking, then the business needs to ensure that they give them time to do each part of their job and not restrict them or give them duties they are not qualified for. If new responsibilities need to be introduced, the business will have to provide them with the relevant training and education for them to take on a new role. 

 The training will provide employees with the best knowledge so they know how to comply with laws and regulations and have the skills required. 

Hiring can also assist in efficient compliance by hiring employees with the right attitude. This will prevent issues within the workplace and make it easier for employees to get along and remain productive.


Use of tools

Efficiency means that the business needs to get rid of all the piles of papers and folders. By using tools to record everything online, organisations can avoid duplicating documents, can identify gaps in compliance and improve policy management.

 For example, Google Documents automatically maintains a version history for each document – so a small company can write a document control policy that uses this feature, and avoid spending administration time manually updating document histories on a cover page. The whole process will become faster and fewer people will be needed to manage the data. Using compliance tools will also decrease the probability of data being lost and will allow the business to monitor its compliance obligations. 

 There are different software and programs an entity can utilise for the best results. Polonious offers customers the tools to move all their compliance information online and find everything they need within seconds. We can help customers reduce the occurrence of manual data entry errors and help them store everything in one place.


Standardise and automate

 Standardising procedures leaves little room for error. Businesses are able to see what is the best way to complete a task and then set guidelines that comply with rules and obligations. The entity might choose to make an SOP to increase both operational and compliance efficiency. An SOP is a standard operating procedure that outlines what employees need to do to complete a complex task.

Automating compliance can greatly decrease business costs. It involves the use of technology to check systems, send notifications when a problem is present and make procedures more simple. 

 The first step to automating is to standardise the process, as you cannot automate something that has too much variation or is done in an ad hoc manner. However, once you have standardised a process you will be able to see what opportunities there are for automating all or part of it. The business will have to test the automation system before it is implemented and review it regularly to avoid errors and improve the efficiency and quality of processes. 

 Polonious assists entities in automating their compliance by providing them with ways to automate their workflow. It protects their sensitive information, reduces the pains of ad-hoc communications and provides reports on actions that can be taken if there is a problem.

Efficient compliance

Implement a framework 

 A framework is a base for the minimum standards a business needs to follow. By implementing a framework the business will have to follow the guidelines it provides to meet its obligations. The framework needs to be a ‘living document’ that is updated when necessary and is able to adapt to the changing business environment. This will make compliance more efficient for a small business as its minimum obligations are clear and it does not need to have numerous guidelines that confuse employees. 

 One of the best frameworks for businesses of any size and industry is the ISO 31000 ERM. It guides organisations towards success by assisting them with optimising their processes and updating them when needed. By using the ISO 31000 the business will have the required principles to meet its objectives and obligations.  

 The framework can help the business build its policies and procedures. Policies should not be created by outsourcing to a third party or by taking a shortcut. Even though that might be seen as efficient it can have consequences in the long term. It is advisable for the business to create its own policies and procedures to ensure that it addresses all its expectations and objectives. 

 To save time, you can start with template policies from online or from consultants, or research policies from similar companies – however you should always review them thoroughly and make them fit your context, otherwise you may end up promising things that are not relevant to you and wasting more time in the long run. E.G. consultants will often give you a great deal of paperwork and forms when setting up a compliance system, as this seems like good value as you get a lot of ‘stuff’ for your money.

 However they may be setting you up with an unnecessarily burdensome compliance system – if you have a consultant helping you, it is better value to ask them how you can be compliant with less paperwork.

 The management should then ensure that all employees are familiar with the policies and aware of what action they can take. This increases compliance efficiency as all employees are given the same document to follow and are aware of what their obligations are. 



 Efficient compliance can help businesses achieve their obligations in the least costly and least time-consuming way. It can reduce the need for new employees and decrease the probability of problems arising from processes. It will allow a business to operate more smoothly and focus on the benefits of improving their risk management and business processes, rather than keeping up with paperwork. If a business puts emphasis on efficient compliance, it is more likely to also modify other parts of its operations to ensure that it generates as much profit as possible. 



 Continuous improvement is what helps a business grow. If a business is focused on improving its processes and updating its systems and controls regularly then it will be easier to achieve efficient compliance. Internal audits and inspections can monitor compliance and indicate whether efficiency is executed correctly or if other actions have to be taken.

 Efficient compliance has many benefits and small businesses can use multiple ways to achieve the desired results. Automating workflow, implementing a framework or using tools are all activities that Polonious specialises in. It can provide your business with the best resources that will reduce time needed to complete a task, give you everything you need in one place and assist with recording data for compliance purposes.

Book a Demo Now

Learn more about how Polonious can help you achieve efficient compliance. 

6 Quick Wins for Improving Employee Relations

6 Quick Wins for Improving Employee Relations

The term ‘employee relations’ refers to the individual and collective relationship between employers and employees.

Striving to ensure strong employee relations should be a priority of all employers as it is beneficial not only to the wellbeing and loyalty of the employees but can also benefit the company in terms of productivity and business outcomes.

Good employee relations benefit everyone in the workplace

Why are employee relations important?

Understanding why employee relations are important is the first step in assessing whether you are taking the right measures to improve them in your workplace or need to reevaluate your approach.

Research shows that in workplaces where employee relations have an important role, employees have better rates of satisfaction and overall engagement which in turn impacts their overall productivity. In fact, one study showed that over a three-year period, the revenue growth of companies with highly engaged employees was 2.3 times greater than those with under-engaged employees.

What can you do now to improve employee relations?

Most employers are actually aware of how crucial employee relationships are to an effective workspace. The real concern lies in how to improve them for the long term – in fact, it was found that whilst 90% of employers recognise the importance of employee relations, only half knew how to address the issue.

1. Effective mechanisms for dialogue

Improving employee relations is linked directly to the current state of affairs at your workplace, of which your employees are your best informants. Having effective voice channels in place through which they can liaise with management is necessary for enabling feedback and allowing issues to be raised. 

This can be done through nominated representatives or the introduction of an employee relations team or manager whose purpose would be to mediate between the company and workers and offer relevant advice towards company initiatives addressing employee issues.

No matter what means are used, the channels of communication should be transparent, and employees should be encouraged to use them to provide their opinions. In turn, management, and HR should actively utilise the feedback and advice from employees to carry out further research and consider relevant policy changes.

2. Train and support your managers

Managers are the first line of support for employees, and they are the ones that will handle the vast majority of concerns and issues they have. If the manager themselves is untrained in dealing with certain situations or is ill-equipped to handle the role, then the employee’s relationship with them, and by extension, the company, begins to suffer.

They should be aware of how they can support employees, give them constructive feedback, divide tasks, address minor conflicts, and manage timelines for projects. Ensuring that manager training addresses all the relevant skills they need and equips them to navigate their role adequately is a direct means to ensuring good employee relations.

3. Consistent and open communication 

Having channels for dialogue is not effective unless they’re being utilised regularly to communicate on genuine issues. Typical work culture today is incredibly reliant on online communication means and whilst they are important and useful, they should not be treated as the default method in every case.

Regular meetings for teams as well as wide division meetings should be regular and individuals in leadership positions such as HR representatives should be approachable to employees for guidance.

In meetings, having a small amount of time set aside for employees to share any obstacles they may have individually or collectively noted at work, both strengths and weaknesses so HR and management can then collate the information from the differing organisational teams towards an enhanced understanding of employee expectations.

Strong employee relations require open communication
4. Supporting career progression

Actively encouraging and providing support for career development and progression creates a work environment that is more enthusiastic and motivated. Enabling pathways for employees to grow their skillsets encourages them to expand their capabilities and allows them to feel that they are supported at work. 

One way that employers can achieve this is by having training opportunities to upskill employees available on a regular basis. Management teams should also make sure that each employee has a development plan in place with the relevant authority through which they can track their progress towards the goals they have set. 

Opportunities for career progression are an important factor for many people in even taking up a role so having pathways for growth in place is an effective method of acquiring and keeping employees that are keen and ultimately establishing strong employee relations.

5. Improve the employee experience 

An employer’s responsibility towards their employees goes beyond the minimum requirement of ensuring their health and safety and includes actively enhancing their experience within the workplace itself. 

Key methods to improving the employee experience include established and active communication channels, a well-designed employee onboarding process that makes sure they are well equipped with what they need, and regular check-ins from managers to ensure that all is well. These check-ins should focus on what the employee feels they may need to grow further or an issue they may be struggling with.

Doing so will allow employers to work with their employees on what they need support in, rather than being blindsided when they choose to leave.

6. Appreciate employee efforts and accomplishments 

A 2018 study by Mercer found that of the group of employees who felt they were undervalued at work, 76% were on the lookout for external opportunities.  Part of building food employee relations is showing employees that their work is seen and recognised and that they are valued assets to the company. Appreciation for employees should not only be reserved for formal occasions but encouraged on a day-to-day basis.

During meetings, take out time to praise recent accomplishments and encourage gestures like appreciation emails, celebratory team lunches, or work parties and have initiatives like awards with perks in place. The gestures don’t have to be grand in scale but they should communicate that the employees are valued and cared for and that their efforts do not go unnoticed.

Book a Demo Now

Learn more about how Polonious can help improve employee relations in your workplace.

Employees are the central force of any company and hence,  building strong employee relations should be a priority of every organisation that seeks to have a strong and motivated workforce. Neglecting this duty can result in unforeseen consequences which harm the company’s productivity, output, and reputation in the long run.

Tips for a workplace investigator

Tips for a workplace investigator


 A workplace investigator is responsible for ensuring that an investigation is conducted fairly and in a timely manner. However, it is important to remember that the investigator involved might be faced with content that is sensitive and sometimes may be upsetting. They have to focus on the quality of their investigation while ensuring the organisation takes care of the mental wellbeing of the parties involved, as well as the investigator’s own wellbeing. 

 A workplace investigation has many laws and regulations that need to be followed as well as the business policies that the investigator must comply with. During the process, there will be many interviews that are necessary to understand what went wrong and get perspectives from different employees. Therefore, it has to be conducted effectively so mistakes are avoided. 


Tips for the investigator

The investigation has to be carried out correctly because a false result could be harmful for the person accused. The investigator needs to remember to:

-Be confidential

-Protect evidence 

-Avoid bias

-Act quickly 

-Seek support 

-Investigate fairly 

-Be transparent


Be confidential

 An investigator is usually aware that everything that occurs in the investigation needs to remain confidential. Sometimes organisations are not familiar with investigations; it might be the first time they are conducting one and they might be unprepared. The investigator has to emphasise the importance of protecting the confidentiality of those involved to avoid false accusations and harm to the employees’ careers. 

The investigator should be the only one with access to evidence and the only one conducting interviews. If this is a bigger investigation, only the people responsible should be communicating with employees. This will minimise the chances of information leaking. 


Protect evidence

 The investigator or investigation team need to be the only ones with access to evidence for more reasons than just confidentiality. By storing information in a safe place, the investigator decreases the chances of the evidence being stolen or tampered with. Original documents should be stored carefully to avoid damage and if possible, it is advisable to have copies of them for use and if sharing is required, rather than the original file. Interview notes need to be stored neatly so they are not mingled. Organising the information during an investigation is crucial for it to be successful.

 Polonious assists its customers when they are conducting a workplace investigation by providing them with a secure place to store the evidence. This does not only ensure confidentiality but allows the investigator to protect the data available to them and organise them as they see fit.


 Avoid bias

 The investigator will probably hear many perspectives during the process. They may meet many people who will not give them a good impression or their attitude indicates that something is wrong. It is important to avoid making pre-judgements as it will lead to a misleading result. The investigator needs to be objective and not favour certain individuals because they seem more trustworthy. Looking at facts rather than emotions can prevent unconscious bias and result in a successful investigation.

 It is also important not to let hostile or nervous behaviour colour or cloud an investigator’s judgement of an interviewee – investigation interviews are situations that make people nervous, regardless of whether they’re telling the truth, and many of the stereotypical ‘signs’ of lying are merely signs of nervousness which are not reliable indicators of truth telling. Therefore it is doubly important to let the facts speak for themselves and to determine lies through factual contradictions rather than being influenced by behaviour.


Act quickly

 The investigator may have been called in days or weeks after the issue took place. It is easy for memories to fade or for individuals to misremember actions. If the parties involved discussed the occurrence with other people, it is possible that their perspective has been influenced and they start to doubt what they saw or what they thought happened. This is why the investigator must act quickly and conduct interviews with the most important parties early. They will be able to recall events better and provide a clearer picture of the event. 

 The rest of the parties can then be prioritised in order of importance: those who were witnesses to the events, that knew of previous occurrences and who are likely to forget easier than others need to be interviewed first. It might be a good idea to encourage employees to write down what they want to say to remember specific details. 


Seek support

 During an investigation, the parties involved, including the investigator, might be under a lot of pressure and stress. The employees may feel like they are in trouble and the issue being investigated might cause them distress. The investigator should seek support from the organisation to minimise the impact of the process on mental health. They might ask the organisation to provide counselling as well as free mental health services that will check on the person’s wellbeing. 

 It will be a good idea for investigator to also use similar services, such as the EAP, to ensure that their mental health is not as heavily impacted and are still able to stay focused on the task. 


Investigate fairly

 The investigator must give everyone involved a chance to explain themselves, what they felt, what they saw and how they were affected. If employees want to add more details, they must be welcome to do so. This will improve the quality of the investigation process and give everyone the same treatment. When conducting interviews, it is advisable for the investigator not to interrupt with new questions if the employee has not finished talking. Even though the investigator needs answers, the employee may not be in the best headspace and actions like that may make them feel unfairly treated. Employees need to feel listened to and understood so it is easier for them to open up. 

 Even if the investigator feels like the information is irrelevant, they can ask open-ended questions to guide them toward the topic they want to discuss. The more information that is given, the more facts there are to cross reference and find inconsistencies if someone is lying.


Be transparent

 Before starting the investigation, the investigator needs to explain the process to the employer and employees. By sharing details such as interviews being recorded and communicating effectively with the employer and employees it will make it so they are more likely to trust the investigator. It will also avoid retaliation and confusion as employees will not be afraid of the unknown and will know what to expect. Encouraging the employees to ask questions themselves, for things they do not understand or something they are unsure about will provide them with clarity and more confidence. 



 The investigator and their attitude plays a very important role in the success of the investigation. Therefore, they need to focus on the task but also remember not to neglect mental health and the employees’ wellbeing. All the parties involved need to be fairly treated and listened to, and this will allow the investigator to collect more information to base their conclusion on.

 Polonious can help your business with a workplace investigation by protecting your employees’ confidentiality and the investigators’ evidence. It provides companies with resources to ensure a quicker and correct result by reducing disorganisation and helping investigators have everything they need readily available to them.

Book a Demo Now

Learn more about how Polonious can help you conduct a fair workplace investigation.  

ISO 31000 vs COSO ERM

ISO 31000 vs COSO ERM

ISO 31000

 In risk management, ISO 31000 and COSO are the two most popular standards. Standards are essential in a business as they set a baseline to avoid conflict over what is right or wrong.  ISO 31000 and the COSO framework provide a similar definition of what a risk is and recognise it as an uncertain occurrence. 

 ISO and COSO are updated when necessary and are best known for making compliance easier. They both have the same goal: help employers manage risk in their organisation to achieve their goals. What other similarities do they have and what are their differences?


The COSO framework

 COSO stands for the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations which was founded in 1985 by five professional associations: The Institute of Management Accountants, The American Accounting Organization, Financial Executives International, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the Institute of Internal Auditors. 

 The COSO framework was created in 1992 and was then updated in 2013. In 2017 the committee updated it as the COSO ERM (Enterprise Risk Management)  framework. It is usually depicted as a three-dimensional cube The cube shows how COSO connects its three elements; the objectives are at the top, the components are at the front and the organisational structure on the side. It promotes accountability and confidence that controls will mitigate risks. 


ISO 31000

 ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. It was founded by 25 countries in February 1947. ISO 31000 was firstly issued in 2009 and was later updated in 2018. It provides guidelines for implementing enterprise risk management strategies encouraging decision-making based on risk management. The second version introduces the concept of risk appetite which is a confusing term in risk management. It heavily focuses on creating and protecting the value of a business. 

 ISO has stated that ISO 31000 cannot be used for certification purposes. However, these risk management standards underpin a lot of the practices in other standards that can be used for certification e.g. in ISO27001 as information security is highly dependent on managing risk.


 Both standards explore risks widely. They encourage risk-taking and decision-making that is backed by risk management. They offer an approach that allows businesses to control risks so they can achieve their objectives and grow. Both COSO and ISO 31000 cover the ERM process in great detail. They promote a consistent approach to the risk management process that will drive the improvement of measures and strategies. 

 Both frameworks are guidelines. They do not intend to enforce rules. They allow organisations to customise their approach to fit the situation of that specific business. They do not provide companies with a certification, rather, they encourage continuous improvement and better governance. Businesses that use ISO 31000 and the COSO framework can compare their own risk management policies and procedures to standards that are globally recognised.

 Another similarity between the two frameworks is that they recognise the importance of being updated. They accept that we live in a fast-changing world and the risk environment does not remain the same. Both documents get updates to add new concepts and address different kinds of situations. They provide guidelines on how to identify, assess and monitor constantly evolving risks. 



 COSO is a much larger document than ISO 31000. The latter has 16 to 32 pages while the former has over 120 pages. This allows COSO to explain concepts, such as risk appetite, more thoroughly than ISO and introduce other concepts such as risk tolerance and capacity. ISO 31000 is more concise and simple but businesses have said that it does not cover all elements of risk management implementation. Another reason that the COSO framework is longer is because it depicts many concepts using visual elements while ISO 31000 does not. 

 COSO is mainly targeted at accounting and auditing firms but ISO 31000 can be used by any organisation as it provides a general approach. This is because ISO offers a broad risk model and COSO focuses on financial reporting. The target market also differs geographically. Even though COSO and ISO are internationally recognised, ISO is used globally while the COSO framework is mostly used in North America. 

ISO 31000

Which one is better: ISO 31000 or COSO ERM?

 Both frameworks offer interesting perspectives on how to implement risk management in decision-making and how to use risk management to help a business achieve its objectives. The standards of the frameworks are just the base, the starting point companies can use to develop their processes and procedures. Which document is better heavily depends on the business, its industry and where it operates. It is important that business owners read both documents and understand their content before deciding which one to use. 

 There are other risk management standards such as the BS 31100, FERMA and OCEG. However, the COSO ERM and ISO 31000 remain the leading frameworks for multiple reasons, including their focus on risk management being an ongoing process rather than a one-time decision. They explain risk management as part of the core business rather than a separate strategy and highlight how every process will need to be customised to fit the needs of the organisation.

 ISO 31000 and the COSO ERM can offer benefits such as the strengthening of internal controls and the effective response to a changing business environment. Since they assist organisations in improving their crisis management, they indirectly assist in improving the performance of the organisation as well. They also help in fostering a risk-aware culture which contributes to significant cost savings for the company. 



 Whether a company chooses to implement the COSO ERM framework or the ISO 31000, it will choose to take a step in the right direction by preparing the business for unpredictable events. While both frameworks have some similarities, they also have some significant differences, so it is important to read both before deciding which one to use. Managers must remember that the frameworks only offer guidelines, and it is up to the company to develop its own risk management process.

Book a Demo Now

Learn more about how Polonious can help you achieve effective risk management. 

Workplace Retaliation: How can you protect your employees from it?

Workplace Retaliation: How can you protect your employees from it?

When it comes to forms of discrimination in the workplace, retaliation may not be the first category that comes to mind for most people. However, data reported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that retaliation discrimination is far more prevalent than previously conceived, making up 56% of all discrimination claims filed with the agency in 2020.

It overtook both disability and race based claims, which came in at second and third respectively, making it incredibly important that it’s on the radar of all employers.

Having strategies to prevent workplace retaliation can be trickier than expected because of how closely tied it is to interpersonal relationships, but this article will break down the most effective means through which employers can protect their workplaces from facing the repercussions of this form of discrimination.

workplace retaliation is a form of discrimination

What is workplace retaliation?

Workplace retaliation refers to the unjust or hostile treatment of an employee by an employer, or anyone in a position of higher authority at the workplace, with the underlying cause being the employee’s exercisement of a legal right or engagement in a legally protected activity that they have found unfavourable.

Common examples of such actions include:

      • Filing a complaint about another worker’s behaviour
      • Reporting any unlawful activity conducted by another worker 
      • Requesting certain adjustments to account for disabilities, religious practices etc.
      • Resisting and/or speaking up about sexual advancements

Retaliation itself can take on may forms, such as:

      • Dismissal of the employee from the company 
      • Reduction in salary or benefits that they are entitled to
      • Pushing them to do tasks outside of their role as an employee
      • Demoting the employee or denying them a valid promotion
      • Transferring them to an undesirable role
      • Abuse (verbal, physical etc)
      • Threats on the employee’s safety, job or family
      • Unfair work assignments or schedules enforced on the employee

It is important to remember as employers, that this does not mean that employees are protected from any consequences no matter the actions they take. Retaliation can only be claimed by an employee if the cause for the unfair treatment is legally invalid and infringes on the employees rights at work.

This can be tricky because whilst actions such as abuse or threats can be clearly labelled as illegal, other repercussions such as the dismissal of the employee can be within your right as an employer, depending on the context.

To prove that any actions being claimed as retaliation are being made on fair grounds, the employer must show that:

      • The action or activity being addressed is not a legally protected one and is valid as per company procedures and policies 
      • Any action taken against the employee is not linked to their engagement with a legally protected activity or action

How do employers spot workplace retaliation?

The tricky aspect with workplace retaliation is that the person making the unfavourable action is also likely aware that they cannot use the actual situation as justification for the retaliatory action, and instead choose to disguise their actions under the guise of other excuses. For example, if the employee rejects their sexual advances they can threaten them by citing that the employee is not yet competent enough for a promotion.

In other cases, the form of retaliation can be a lot more subtle than actions like unfair dismissal- for example, when it comes time to transfer the employee, they can intentionally choose the reassignment to be unnecessarily and intentionally difficult in accordance with the employee’s current life circumstances.

For employers seeking to prevent workplace retaliation, it is important to be on the lookout for signs that insinuate workplace retaliation may be at play.

These signs can include:

      • A hostile work environment has emerged in a certain division or program
      • The demotion or dismissal  of an employee who has been performing well
      • Disciplinary action taken against an employee for a reason that does not align with their past behaviour

With all of these signs, it is important to keep context in mind – for example, has the employee at hand made a recent complaint about the manager that has instigated the disciplinary action? This enables you to see a clearer picture regarding the events and better identify which situations may need to be investigated further.

It is simultaneously just as important to remember that these signs are not concrete indications of workplace retaliation and should not be treated as such. Any suspicions should be followed up with protocol procedures so that all matters are handled within the confines of company policies and the law.

workplace retaliation is harmful to employees

How can employers prevent workplace retaliation?

Despite the uncertainty that can surround workplace retaliation cases, employers can still have measures in place to prevent their occurrence and provide means through which any employee that suspects they are being subjected to it can seek assistance.

1. Company policies and procedures 

Having a strong stance on workplace retaliation and accompanying company policies that communicate this is an important first step. Alongside this should be a process which employees can follow to report any potential workplace retaliation in a manner that is confidential.

Having a clear investigative procedure that focuses on evidence and is fair in handling discipline not only allows employees to feel safer in coming forward but also discourages individuals from acting discriminatorily in the first place.

2. Having informed employees

A common occurrence in workplace retaliation is that employees are often put into a position where they fear greater repercussions if they file complaints or inform anyone else about their situation. Making sure that they know what workplace retaliation is, the forms it can take, the company’s policies and procedures as well their options in such an occurrence makes it difficult for them to be manipulated by anyone in a position of higher authority.

3. Lead by example

Treating all discrimination cases as per the company’s guidelines regardless of who they involve and encouraging anyone that’s been discriminated against to come forward promotes a culture of trust and openness.

One way you can do this as an employer is making sure your HR or management team is objective in its treatment and not influenced by those in the upper management roles of the organisation. 


Book a Demo Now

Learn more about how Polonious can help you protect your organisation from workplace retaliation.

To conclude,  workplace retaliation is a form of workplace discrimination that employers definitely need to ensure is addressed in the policies and procedures thorugh which they counter and prevent discrimination at their organisation.

It can be more murky to navigate that traditional forms of discrimination but there are still methods employers can employ to dissuade and limit its occurence. Doing so actively is a responsibility that should be taken seriously for the overall health and longevity of the workplace and its employees.

SIU Insights report 2021How do you compare to other SIUs?

Check out some interesting results from our SIU management survey. Submit below form to receive the download link and related updates going forward.

GICOP changes 2021Download the GICOP whitepaper and stay compliant.

Our whitepaper covers all aspects you need to know to stay compliant with the latest GICOP changes coming into effect in 2021. Submit below form to receive the download link and related updates going forward.