4 Keys to Handling a Workplace Discrimination Complaint

A prompt and thorough investigation can save a company from an expensive lawsuit

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Code of Conduct, Discrimination, Human Resources on January 14th, 2013

Ignoring complaints about discrimination in the workplace might look like the easiest thing to do, but it can also be the easiest way to spark a lawsuit. And with the ever-increasing volume of discrimination complaints reaching the EEOC, ignoring them is risky business. In 2012, there were 99,632 workplace discrimination charges filed with the EEOC, only slightly fewer than were filed in 2011, which was a record year for these types of claims.

So now that we’ve established that ignoring them is not an option, what should an employer do about workplace discrimination complaints?

1. Policies

Anti-discrimination laws exist to protect employees and should be built into workplace policies. Train all managers and supervisors on the company’s anti-discrimination policies and set a tone in the company that discourages discriminatory behavior.

2. Documentation

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When firing or failing to promote an employee, employers should have evidence to support why the selected candidate was chosen. Keep employee files up to date by documenting employee misconduct, performance reviews and any other activities the employee is involved in. When an employee receives a sub-par performance review, make sure that the evidence supporting your decisions is documented in the review.

3. Respond to complaints

Employees should have several options for making complaints, including at least one option that allows for anonymous reporting. But the key is to follow up on all complaints received through any channel. Employees who don’t follow up promptly put themselves at risk for lawsuits.

Case management software can be used to ensure that each incoming complaint is routed to the appropriate person. An email alert built into the system triggers a message to inform the appropriate individuals that a new case has been entered and that they have been assigned the case for investigation.

4. Identify and correct problems

It’s important for employers to be able to show that systems and procedures are in place to avoid and correct misconduct, such as discrimination. A company that can show that it takes misconduct seriously has a much stronger case if an issue goes to court.

By using case management software to manage investigations, a company has reporting capabilities that provide insight into the all the data around discrimination complaints and investigations. The company can then take corrective action by identifying common allegations and their location in order to provide training and review company policies on employment discrimination.

Tip of the Iceberg

When an employer receives a charge alleging discrimination, the EEOC might look at whether the incident at issue is a symptom of a larger problem and may expand that charge as it sees fit.

Sometimes the EEOC will follow up by requesting information on what the it perceives to be statistical disparities in the employment data that may or not be related to the charge, opening up a huge can of worms. Your best bet in avoiding this scenario is to investigate complaints promptly and fairly to avoid that first incident being logged with the EEOC.



Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.