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I had been struggling with a middle school teacher/student relationship all school year. No, I am not a school administrator…I am the student’s father. We had all heard that parents being involved in their child’s education can help them do better in school and succeed so here is my struggle.

Good Communication is Critical

There seems to be a communication gap in this triangle. My child was constantly telling me how this teacher singled him out and treated him unfairly. The teacher said he is overreacting and that I should come to sit through one of his classes to observe. His response, of course, was that she will be on her best behavior if I attend class. He said he’s seen it before with other kids’ parents attending.

Given that he has no real problems with other teachers I am not so inclined to believe the teacher; but on the other hand, middle-school-age kids are typically in the midst of an identity crisis, finding their limits and having questionable judgment when it comes to sorting things out.

Be Careful Playing Favorites – Mediators Must Remain Neutral

Now, most parents will want to believe their own child, trust them and back them up when it comes to a “he said-she said” scenario, right? Well, on top of that I had just watched a program on television in which teachers accused of being hostile or verbally abusive were secretly videotaped. Is that legal?

So there I was, of course, being forced to take sides. My gut told me if there was no other documentation, or secret videos, that I must rat out the teacher. After all I’ve taught my child how to behave and I believe he would do the right thing. But how does this help his grade? I believe that a teacher who has been ratted out will discretely discriminate, whether she is guilty or not.

Retaliation is Not Always Obvious

We do our best to coach the child through to the end of the year or get them transferred to a situation where they will not face judgment. We must do similar things with employees when we have workplace incidents to investigate. We must be fair, find out as many facts as possible and protect confidentiality while at the same time keeping an eye out for the discrete retaliation that is no doubt going to happen in many instances.


Retaliation in the workplace is quite common and often under the radar. It can also be a legal nightmare if we don't put a stop to it. All too many cases of employers in court with the defendant backed by the EEOC prove this can be a real liability.

Create a Plan to Catch The Problems Early – Save Headaches

When working in Human Resources we are usually pulled into these situations after things have escalated out of control. If we educate our supervisors to refer to HR more about every little issue we will tend to head-off those escalated incidents and undetectable, “under-the-radar” retaliations.

Human Resources can't always find time to handle every little complaint. While we may struggle to separate the most important issues from the trivial ones the tendency is to empower supervisors to fix the problems themselves. If we don’t train them properly or if they are still new to confronting those complex employee issues, by all means, encourage them to get HR’s help.

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