Harassment and discrimination can take many forms, and when someone approaches you with a complaint, it is crucial that you take it seriously. It is rarely in someone’s favor to lie about something like this, and while that does not necessarily mean you have to immediately fire the accused individual, you still need to carry out a few actions. You may face lawsuits or investigations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Deal with these matters with tact to protect your other workers and your organization as a whole.
Take Accusations Seriously
If someone approaches you with a complaint about one of your workers, then you need to listen carefully and not automatically assume that the accuser is lying. You do not want to jump to conclusions, but you should tell the person that you will definitely look into the matter. As a business owner, it might be hard to swallow that discrimination is occurring within your company. That does not mean you should sweep accusations under the rug. Something else to keep in mind is that you want to keep this information confidential. While it may not be practical to keep the issue completely silent, you should do your best to prevent wild rumors or untrue gossip from spreading through the office.
Avoid Retaliatory Actions Against the Accuser
Laws exist that prohibit employers from punishing employees who accuse a co-worker of harassment. Therefore, it is illegal to fire, demote, cut pay or threaten anyone who makes a complaint. You will only be opening your business up to more lawsuits by taking these actions. Something that could be viewed as retaliatory is changing the accuser’s shifts to avoid contact with the accused individual. For example, if you move the accuser to a less convenient night shift while the accused still works days, then that could be viewed as revengeful.
Begin the Investigation Immediately
You are most likely busy handling numerous responsibilities running your business. It can be easy to hear a discrimination complaint and set it off to the side until you have the time to more effectively deal with it. However, time is of the essence when it comes to discrimination complaints. Depending on what specific harassment happened, it could very well happen again unless you take action. An employee may have wanted to deal with the problem in-house, but your inaction could cause the individual to seek other avenues. You may want to consider hiring a third party to investigate the matter, and you should make sure every step of the process is documented so that you can defend yourself if it comes down to that.
If you choose to investigate on your own, then you should question both parties: the accuser and accused. More than likely, each party is going to have a different story, so if there were any witnesses to the incident, then you should interview them as well. This will provide you with a more comprehensive overview of what really went down. Here are some questions to consider asking:
- What exactly was said?
- Where in the workplace did this occur?
- Did any physical actions take place?
You may also want to ask for emails, timecards and other documents if you believe they will help you resolve this faster.
If you have enough evidence that shows that harassment did in fact occur, then you need to discipline the accused party. This discipline can take different forms depending on what exactly happened. For example, if an employee made an offensive joke, then counseling or a written warning may be in order. Sexual harassment such as stalking or inappropriate touching may call for termination of employment. You may want to speak with an attorney to learn more about what should be done with harassment cases. Carrying out swift action is the easiest way for the company to move on from the incident.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.