Employee Issue:

Guidelines for Handling Complaints

When you are handling discrimination or harassment complaints in the workplace, it can be helpful to follow a few, simple guidelines.

Make sure you keep an open mind, even if it is hard to believe discrimination or harassment is occurring in your workplace. If you fail to investigate a complaint, you may end up in a lawsuit. Investigate every complaint you receive and do not come to any conclusions until it is complete.

Treat your complainer with compassion and respect. An employee who believes you are not taking the complaint seriously may be likely to take the issue to court. It is also important to not place blame on the complainer. Though you may become angry that you must deal with a harassment or discrimination issue, you become vulnerable to claims of illegal retaliation. It is illegal to punish someone for making a harassment or discrimination complaint. Some forms of retaliation include termination, pay cuts, demotion, discipline or threats. Remember that the complainer is the victim and not the source of the problem.

If you have an employee manual, follow any policies regarding discrimination or harassment. You can also educate yourself on discrimination laws. You can interview the people involved to find out their concerns. Take notes, get details, look for corroboration or contradiction and keep the conversations confidential.

If the employee complains to a government agency, it may start an investigation. The agency may ask you for documents and efforts you made in dealing with the complaint. This may be a good time to hire a lawyer. You may also choose to bring in an outside investigator if more than one employee complains of harassment; the accused is a CEO, president or other high ranking official; the complaint has been publicized; or if the accusations are extreme.

Finally, take appropriate action against the wrongdoers.