Challenging the Business of Fear: Ending Retaliation, Enforcing Workers’ Rights

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NESRI partnered with Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition founded by eight worker centers in the Chicago area, to document the breakdown in accountability manifest in widespread incidences of retaliation and lay the groundwork for campaigns to improve how workers are protected at the center of enforcement. Based on jointly designed surveys and in-depth interviews, our collaborative report, Challenging the Business of Fear: Ending Workplace Retaliation, Enforcing Workers’ Rights, captures the stories of what happened when nearly 300 workers from across multiple industries in Illinois tried to address abuse at work. 

Business of Fear highlights the devastating failure to provide these workers with effective protection in the face of retaliation when reporting abuse, despite public reliance on workers’ ability to speak up in order to enforce workplace laws. In the absence of reliable protection, the constant threat of job loss creates pressure for workers to accept illegal abuses like wage theft.

Select survey findings include:

  • 75% were experiencing two or more workplace violations in current jobs
  • 73% avoided reporting workplace abuses at least sometimes out of fear
  • 48% experienced retaliation, particularly loss of work, when they tried to address an abuse
  • Among workers who sought relief from retaliation, 55% of complaints were not taken seriously and 66% did not receive adequate relief

A worker-centered framework enables workers to fill the role of frontline monitors of fundamental rights, and demands that the pervasive menace of retaliation be addressed. Our joint report identifies at least three essential elements to advance this vision:

  • Broad legal protections and fair assumptions and burdens of proof under the law that ensures all workers have reliable access to relief in case of retaliation;
  • A path to justice that meets workers’ needs, including timely resolution for retaliation complaints; and
  • Preventative and corrective measures – legal penalties and other enforcement measures that effectively deter employers from delaying and denying justice for workers.

Additional Resources

business of fear cover Business_of_Fear_WEB Business of Fear Executive Summary web