Complaints About Discrimination in the Workplace

Debunking the myths and examining the facts surrounding the federal sector EEO process

Posted by Joe Gerard in Discrimination, Human Resources on April 18th, 2012

Some feel that investigating every employee complaint wastes time and encourages frivolous complaints, but headlines tell a different story as companies receive bigger and bigger fines for negligence. Addressing employee complaints about discrimination can save companies from heavy sanctions.


Ignoring complaints about discrimination in the workplace might seem like the easy thing to do, but it can also be the easiest way into a lawsuit.  A myth that was addressed in a recent posting from the EEOC, “What You Should Know: Myths and Facts about the Federal Sector EEO process,” is that agencies devote too many resources to processing frivolous discrimination complaints. The EEOC posted the facts about the discrimination complaints they receive, stating:

Most EEO complaints are far from frivolous.  Employees usually file complaints as a painstaking last resort.  In fact, federal sector rules and regulations allow for dismissal of so-called frivolous complaints.  However, managers should know that publicly criticizing complainants or treating them with contempt is not just a bad idea; it may in fact violate the law.  Calling complainants “whiners” or “poor performers” may result in a claim of reprisal – which is already the number one basis of complaints.  Reprisal has a chilling effect on the EEO process, undermines the statutory rights of employees, and does a disservice to the spirit and intent of federal anti-discrimination laws.

Taking Discrimination Complaints Seriously

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It’s important that employers take their employees seriously when they make complaints about discrimination. When an employee feels discriminated against, it likely took them awhile to build up the courage to even report the incident in the first place. The NOLO article, “Guidelines for Handling Discrimination and Harassment Complaints,” explains why you should treat every complainant with respect:

Employees often find it extremely difficult to complain about discrimination or harassment. They feel vulnerable and afraid. This can have an impact on the quality of their work, and it can also lead them to seek outside assistance from lawyers. When an employee comes to you with concerns 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 to court.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when an employee makes a complaint about discrimination in the workplace:

Act right away – The longer you wait to address the complaint, the more it looks like you aren’t taking the complaint seriously and the more time an employee has to take their complaint to an external agency like the EEOC.

Treat complaints fairly – All complaints should be treated fairly, which means that you should follow the steps outlined in company procedures each time you investigate a complaint.

Prevent retaliation – Retaliating against an employee who makes a complaint is illegal and exposes you to a wide range of other risks, including additional lawsuits, so take the necessary steps to ensure that employees are not retaliated against.

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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