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The Practical Employer

Nearly Half of American Workers Admit to Engaging in Workplace Revenge

There is no excuse for an employer to turn a blind eye toward one employee’s act of revenge against another employee.

And every time I scratch my nails
Down someone else’s back I hope you feel it

Alanis Morissette

Revenge. So natural, and yet so wrong. “Turn the other cheek” is always the preferred practice, and, yet, often life is more “smack you in the cheek” as you turn away.

Even at work.

According to a recent study, 44 percent of workers admit to partaking in some type of workplace revenge.

The top 10 acts of revenge range from the silly to the diabolical to the downright nasty:

  1. Cause a purposeful decline in the quality or quantity of work.
  2. Spreading an unflattering rumor about a co-worker.
  3. Quit a job in an unconventional manner.
  4. Hide a co-worker’s possession(s).
  5. Get a co-worker fired.
  6. Sabotage a co-worker’s work.
  7. Tamper with a co-worker’s computer or work equipment.
  8. Eat a co-worker’s lunch
  9. Disseminate private information from a co-worker’s social media.
  10. Delete work from a co-worker’s computer.
Here’s the most troubling part. Of those who admitted to taking revenge, 83 percent got away with it, and of those that got away with it, 83 percent had no regrets. Also, of those caught, 55 percent suffered no repercussions whatsoever, and only 11 percent were fired.
Moreover, this conduct might not be unlawful. Generalized workplace bullying is generally legal. Mistreatment against co-workers is only rises to the level of unlawful harassment if it’s because of some protected class (e.g., sex. race, religion, age, national origin, disability, etc.), and to the level of unlawful retaliation if the target had engaged in some protected activity.
Yet, just because an act of revenge isn’t illegal doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t handle it just the same. For starters, whether or not an act of revenge is “because of” some protected class is very much in the eye of the beholder, one person’s non-discriminatory act of revenge is another’s unlawful harassment. Do you want to take that risk?
And, regardless of whether an act of revenge is or is not actionable, it nevertheless impacts your employees the same—increased absences, high turnover, low morale, lost productivity, greater health insurance costs, and the expensive legal bills if it turns into a lawsuit.
In other words, there is no excuse for an employer to turn a blind eye toward one employee’s act of revenge against another employee.
So, what can an employer to do prevent employees from exacting revenge on each other?

For starters…

Foster a culture of kindness.
More specifically, you should be implementing these three steps:

1. Review policies. Do you have an anti-bullying policy? Do you have an open-door policy? Does your anti-retaliation policy cover all workplace complaints? If you are missing any of these components, the odds are that your employees will not feel the necessary level of comfort to come forward to complain.
2. Encourage complaints. Do you promptly and thoroughly investigate all complaints of inappropriate misconduct, or just those that could rise to the level of a lawsuit? If you’re not taking all complaints of misconduct seriously with prompt and thorough investigations, you are sending the wrong message to your employees, which could lead to them not complaining at all.
3. Take action. It’s appalling that 55 percent of those caught taking revenge against a co-worker suffered zero consequences. If you conclude that the act of the revenge happened, do something. That something need not be termination, but it should be proportional to the severity of the act and the recidivism of the actor.

Have you ever enacted workplace revenge, been the victim of workplace revenge, or had it occur in your business? And, if so, how did you handle it? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.