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HandWiki. Organizational Retaliatory Behavior. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 27 May 2024).
HandWiki. Organizational Retaliatory Behavior. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed May 27, 2024.
HandWiki. "Organizational Retaliatory Behavior" Encyclopedia, (accessed May 27, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, October 26). Organizational Retaliatory Behavior. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Organizational Retaliatory Behavior." Encyclopedia. Web. 26 October, 2022.
Organizational Retaliatory Behavior

Organizational retaliatory behavior (ORB) is a form of workplace deviance. ORB is defined in the bottom up sense as an employee's reacting against a perceived injustice from their employer. ORB is also a top down issue occurring when an employee speaks out or acts in an unfavorable way against the employer. The International Journal of Conflict Management divides ORB into four different conceptual indicators: rule breaking, level or work behavior, affective commitment, and turnover intention. All of these are forms of workplace deviance.

deviance top down orb

1. Organizational Justice and Retaliatory Behavior

ORB is the result of perceived injustices in the workplace, and can be categorised into the three following groups:

  1. Interactional justice: An employee's evaluation of the perceived fairness of interpersonal treatment from superiors (Bies and Moag 1986), and includes an organization's leaders treating employees with respect, dignity, sensitivity and sincerity.
  2. Procedural justice: An employee's evaluation of the perceived fairness of rules and processes used by the organization to distribute outcomes to all employees within the organization (Thibault and Walker 1975).
  3. Distributive justice: An employee's perception of the fairness of his or her own outcomes, such as pay (Adams 1965).

Employees who feel they are being treated fairly are more likely to be loyal to their companies, have higher morale and increased helping behaviors. Employees who feel they are being treated unfairly tend to have lower morale, higher turnover rates and are more likely to exhibit ORB and another forms of workplace deviance including theft and/or sabotage in attempts to get even with their wrongdoer.

2. Against Whistleblowers

The main reason for top down ORB is whistleblowing. Whilst employees will act out against the organization, employers will act out against the whistleblower by excluding them from meetings, eliminate their perquisites, assigning less desirable work or heavier work load, harsh criticism, and in certain cases, pressure to drop their lawsuit altogether. These are all forms of punishment meant to encourage employee silence and to discourage future whistle blowing.

Employers typically will not waste resources retaliating against employees that are young, inexperienced and have no public credibility. Retaliation often occurs against employees with credibility in their field that have stated their claims against the organization publicly.

3. Workplace Retaliation

Workplace or employment retaliation is an offense under laws which address employment discrimination such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act which provides:

  • Employment discrimination based on gender:
    12940. It is an unlawful employment practice, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification, or, except where based upon applicable security regulations established by the United States or the State of California:

(a) For an employer, because of the race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status of any person, to refuse to hire or employ the person or to refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment, or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.[1]

  • Workplace retaliation:
    (h) For any employer, labor organization, employment agency, or person to discharge, expel, or otherwise discriminate against any person because the person has opposed any practices forbidden under this part or because the person has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding under this part.[1]

The test of whether workplace retaliation has occurred is whether the action would deter a reasonable person in the situation of the employee from making a complaint. The "situation" of the employee includes the granular circumstances of the employee and their particular job, such as child care and scheduling issues. Witnesses and persons who cooperate with investigations of discrimination may also be protected.[2]

Section 704(a) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a):

(a) Discrimination for making charges, testifying, assisting, or participating in enforcement proceedings It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment, for an employment agency, or joint labor-management committee controlling apprenticeship or other training or retraining, including on-the-job training programs, to discriminate against any individual, or for a labor organization to discriminate against any member thereof or applicant for membership, because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.

4. Legal Issues

Statistics are showing an increase in retaliatory-based lawsuits, nearly doubling since 1992 according to Zink and Gutman. This is believed to be because employers are beginning to understand the full financial costs of employee retaliatory behaviors. Another theory as to why lawsuits are increasing is employees are reporting cases of top down retaliation more due to an increased understanding of employee rights. 

Retaliation claims are standardized by the adverse employment clause, defining "any action that materially changes the terms, conditions, and privileges or employment" as retaliation. Validity of retaliation lawsuits are also based on the "reasonable person deterrence" standard from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's compliance manual. Deterring actions include: threats, reprimands, negative performance evaluations, and harassment, suspending or limiting access to an internal grievance, giving and unjustified negative job reference, refusing to provide a job reference, informing an individual's prospective employer about the individual's protected activity, and putting an employee under surveillance.

5. Notable Court Cases

  • Robinson v. Shell Oil Co. (1997) Actions designed to interfere with former employee's prospective employment
  • Winarto v. Toshiba American Electronics Components, Inc. (2001) "Birtch continued to harass Winarto verbally, and he also undertook a disturbing physical form of harassment: kicking. Winarto testified that Birtch kicked her at work “many, many times.” lay off based on poor performance appraisals made after complaints of harassment.[3]
  • EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) vs. Navy Fed. Credit Union (2005) Increased employee surveillance, "The scheme was two-fold: (1) to give Simms favorable performance evaluations, which could be used to defend Navy Federal’s actions in subsequent litigation; and (2) to heighten scrutiny of Simms’s activity in order to discover an objective and seemingly legitimate basis for her termination."[4]
  • Noviello v. City of Boston (2005) following complaint of sexual harassment: hostile work environment, false accusations, forcing an employee to eat alone, suggested shift changes[5]

6. Positives

Scholars Folger and Skarlicki have argued “retaliation may serve the interests of organization members and the organization itself in that employee mistreatment may be prevented by moral watchdogs, whose actual or potential retaliation serves to keep abusive managers in check”. Also, there is the case of justice itself. Studies show that there are employees who engage in this behavior, thinking that they are doing justice - that their acts whether destructive or revenge-seeking are undertaken "to restore justice."[6] While retaliatory behavior causes destruction and damage to organizations, it could also create benefits such as the institution of positive changes in the workplace, especially in instances when opportunities were closed off.[6] This is reinforced by prior literature that explains how ORB tend to be lowest when procedures and interactions within an organization are perceived to be fair.[7] Organizations could also gain insights from this issue, particularly when evaluating employee perception of justice and ethics for the purpose of developing an effective template for ethical behavior and organizational justice both on the organizational and employee levels.[8]


  1. "GOVERNMENT CODE SECTION 12940-12951". 
  2. "Facts About Retaliation". United States Government. Retrieved 16 December 2017. 
  3. United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. Marjati WINARTO, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. TOSHIBA AMERICA ELECTRONICS COMPONENTS, INC. Findlaw accessed March 12, 2015
  4. Fourth Circuit EEOC v. Navy Federal Credit Union accessed March 12, 2015
  5. First Circuit Noviello v. City of Boston access March 12, 2015
  6. Cropanzano, Russell; Ambrose, Maureen (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Justice in the Workplace. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 10. ISBN 9780199981410. 
  7. Gilliland, Stephen; Steiner, Dirk; Skarlicki, Daniel (2001). Theoretical and Cultural Perspectives on Organizational Justice. Greenwich: Information Age Publishing. pp. 101. ISBN 9781607525417. 
  8. Gilliland, Stephen; Steiner, Dirk; Skarlicki, Daniel (2011). Emerging Perspectives on Organizational Justice and Ethics. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing, Inc.. pp. x. ISBN 9781617355820. 
Subjects: Sociology
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