Organizational retaliatory behavior

Organizational retaliatory behavior



Organizational Retaliatory behavior is a form of workplace deviance. Organizational Retaliatory Behavior is defined in the bottom up sense as an employee's reacting against a perceived injustice from their employer. Organizational Retaliatory Behavior 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 Organizational Retaliatory Behavior into four different conceptual indicators; rule breaking, level or work behavior, affective commitment, and turnover intention. All of these are forms of Workplace Deviance.

Organizational justice and retaliatory behavior

Organizational retaliation occurs due to perceived injustices in the workplace. Organizational justice is broken up into three categories:

  1. Interactional justice: An employees evaluation of the perceived fairness of interpersonal treatment from his or her own 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 there are being treated unfairly tend to have lower morale, higher turnover rates and are more likely to exhibit retaliatory behaviors and another forms of workplace deviance including theft and/or sabotage in attempts to get even with their wrongdoer.

A study conducted by Steven L. Blader, Chia-Chi Chang, and Tom R. Tyler titled “Procedural Justice and Retaliation in Organizations: Comparing Cross-Nationally the importance of Fair Group Process” calculated the effect justice has on retaliatory behavior. While the table is meant to indicate the relationship between retaliatory behaviors between American and Taiwanese organizations, the table also indicates the significance of Procedural justice, organizational identity, Relational components, instrumental components, work performance, rule breaking, turnover intention, and affective commitment. These variables are tested using the p test in order to indicate statistically significance. It visible in Table 1 that all of these variables have an effect on Organizational Retaliatory Behavior, aside from Affective Commitment, who’s T-test variable comes in just slightly under |1.96| at -1.00. The p-test value as unavailable for the Affective Commitment variable.

Table 1

         Means, Standard Deviations, and T-ratios
                                   U.S.           Taiwan

Scale Mean (SD) Mean (SD)

                                            t-ratio     p

Procedural justice 4.24 (.97) 3.57 (.95)

                                                7.26   .0001

Org. identity 4.45 (.69) 4.06 (.54)

                                               6.58    .001

Relational components 4.11 (.88) 3.57 (.83)

                                              6.54   .0001

Instrumental components 4.01 (.75) 3.53 (.82)

                                             6.33   .0001

Work performance 5.45 (.50) 4.58 (.62)

                                                    15.90   .0001

Rule-breaking 4.73 (.87) 4.93 (.86)

                                                 −2.36   .02

Turnover intention 3.35 (1.45) 3.67 (1.06)

                                                  −2.65   .01

Affective commitment 3.89 (1.10) 3.98 (.77)

                                                        −1.00    ns

Top Down Organizational Retaliatory Behavior

The main reason for top down retaliatory behavior is whistleblowing. Top down retaliatory behavior differ from that of employees. Whilst employees will act out against the organization, employers will act out against the whistle blower by excluding them from meetings, eliminate their perquisites, assignment to less desirable work or to a heavier work load, more harsh criticism, and in certain cases, pressure to drop their law suit altogether. These are all forms of punishment to the whistle blower meant to encourage employee silence and to discourage future whistle blowing.

Employers typically will not waste resources retaliating with 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.

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 while states “any action that materially changes the terms, conditions, and privileges or employment”. Validity of retaliation lawsuits are also based on the ‘reasonable person deterrence’ standard from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliance manual that states “actions employer behavior is any actions reasonably likely to deter the charging party from engaging in a protected activity”. 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.

Notable Court Cases

  • Robinson v. Shell Oil Co. (1997) Actions designed to interfere with former employee’s perspective employment
  • Winarto v. Toshiba American Electronics Components (2001) Negative changes to performance appraisal
  • EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) vs. Navy Fed. Credit Union (2005) Increased employee surveillance
  • Noviello v. City of Boston (2005) False accusations, forcing an employee to eat alone, suggested shift changes


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”.

Henry Ford was extremely concerned with efficiency. He wanted to maximize profits while minimizing costs, which is what makes this next anecdote so interesting: “Henry Ford once enlisted an efficiency expert to examine the operation of his company. While his report was generally favorable, the man did express reservations about a particular employee. ‘It’s that man down the corridor’, he explained. ‘Every time I go by his office he’s just sitting there with his feet on his desk. He’s wasting your money. ‘That man,’ Ford replied, ‘once had an idea that saved us millions of dollars. At a time, I believe his feet were planted right where they are now”.

See also

  • Workplace revenge


1. Adams, J. S. 1965. Inequity and social exchange. Berkowitz, ed. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 2. Academic Press, NY, 267-299.

2.Anecdotage (2004). Retrieved from on May 2, 2009.

3. Folger, R. & Skarlicki, D.P. (2004). Beyond Counterproductive Work Behavior: Moral Emotions and Deontic Retaliation vs. Reconciliation. In S. Fox & P.E. Spector, (Eds.), Counterproductive Work Behavior: Investigations of Actors and Targets. Washington DC: APA Press, pp. 83–105.

4. Thibault, J. W., L. Walker. 1975. Procedural Justice: A Psychological Perspective. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.

5. Zink, D. L., & Gutman, A. (2005). Statistical trends in private sector employment discrimination suits. In F. J. Landy (Ed.), Employment discrimination litigation: Behavioral, quantitative, and legal perspectives. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.


1. Blader, Steven L., Chia-Chi Chang, and Tom R. TYler. "Procedural Justice and Retaliation in Organizations: Comparing Cross Nationally the Importance of Fair Group Processes." The International Journal of Conflict Management 2(2001): 295-311. Print.

2. Dunleavy, Eric. On the Legal Front: What Is All the Fuss About? . Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc.. 2 May 2009 <>.

3. Fitness, Julie. "Anger in the Workplace: An Emotion Script Approach to Anger Episodes Between Workers and Their Supervisors, Co-Workers, and Subordinates." Journal of Organizational Behavior 21(2000): 147-162. Print.

4. Fox, Suzy. "The Good, the Bad (and this may get Ugly): ." (2005) Web.2 May 2009. <>.

5. Lim, Vivien K. G.. "The IT Way of Loafing on the Job: Cyberloafing, Neutralizing and Organizational Justice ." Journal of Organizational Behavior 23(2002): 675-694. Print.

6. Parmerlee, Marcia A., Janet P. Near, and Tamila C. Jensen. "Whistle-Blowers' Perceptions of Organizational Retaliation ." Administrative Science Quarterly 27(1982): 17-34. Print.

7. Umphress, Elizabeth Eve, Giuseppe (Joe) Labianca, Daniel J. Brass, Lotte Scholten, and Edward (Eli) Kass. "The Role of Instrumental and Expressive Social Ties in Employees' Perceptions of ." Organizational Science. 14(2003): 138-753. Print.

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