If you have faced discrimination at work, you probably feel anxious about it. Making a complaint may seem like a huge step since it would cause workplace tension, government investigations, and even expensive legal battles. If you decide to make the complaint and follow a careful strategy for dealing with it, you can reduce the chance of a lawsuit and improve employee relations at your workplace.
Many employers may not believe that discrimination or harassment is happening in their companies and they simply never noticed anything. This is why they often fail to investigate complaints, assuming that they couldn’t be true. Failing to investigate a complaint is a certain way to end in court. If you’re an employer, investigate every complaint you get. Don’t make any conclusions until you finish the investigation.
Respect and Be Compassionate With the Complainer
Employees aren’t always free to complain about discrimination or harassment. They feel vulnerable and scared because they fear that the compliment might have an impact on the quality of their work. They also fear that it could lead them to seek external assistance from lawyers. When an employee comes to you to talk about discrimination or harassment, be understanding. An employee who sees that you are taking the problem seriously is less likely to escalate the issue to a government agency or court.
Even if you feel anger about the complaint just because you’ll have to deal with the specter of discrimination and harassment in your business, don’t forget that the employee is the victim and not the cause of the issue. If you become angry at the employee, you risk getting yourself in cases of illegal retaliation. You also are at risk of polarizing your workplace, ruining morale, and reducing productivity.
It illegal to punish someone for complaining about discrimination or harassment. The most obvious forms of retaliation are discipline, demotion, termination, pay cuts, or threats to do any of these things. Retaliation may include subtle forms such as changing the shift hours or work area of the victim, changing their job responsibilities, or isolating them by leaving them out of meetings and other office functions.
Now that you’re facing the complaint, it’s time to do some research on the law of discrimination and harassment.
Make sure to start talking to the person who complained and learn what their concerns are. Ask what was said or done, when, where, if there was another employee to witness that. Write things down and talk to other employees (especially to the ones that are accused of discrimination or harassment). Interview the witnesses (if any) who may have seen or heard any problematic conduct.
Keep it Confidential
Such cases can make polarization in the workplace. Workers will side with the accused employee or with the discriminated employee. If details about the complaint leak, you may be accused of damaging the reputation of the alleged victim or alleged discriminator or harasser. You could end up with a defamation lawsuit.
Collaborate With Government Agencies
If the employee makes a complaint with a government agency, they may investigate the case. It will probably ask you to give certain documents, tell your side of the story, or explain what you did to deal with the complaint. Try to give the agency the materials it requests, but remember that the agency is collecting evidence that could be used against you later. Make sure to hire a lawyer to advise you.
Once you have got all the important information, it’s time to think about what happened. If you decide that some form of discrimination or harassment occurred, decide how you’ll discipline the accused person. Termination may not be suitable (that is for harsher cases like threats, stalking, unwanted physical contact). You can warn or counsel the employee.
If such a case seems too complex for you and you don’t know what to do to improve the situation in your company, you can always seek legal help from a skilled attorney. This way you’ll get the guidance, but also advice on what to do next; your attorney will also help you what to do to avoid any lawsuit against you and your company.
Our team at FBD Law is here to help you, call our office today.