What do I do?
If your company has never received an employee complaint of harassment, discrimination, law/safety violations, retaliation or other serious complaints—congratulations!
Handling these complaints is an important part of your business. How you handle them can affect your business. Whether you resolve an issue or end up in court is impacted by the process you follow and the follow-up you provide.
If you, as a business owner or manager, are directly involved in any of these complaints, it is recommended that you hire an outside service to conduct the investigation to avoid the possibility of bias or the appearance of bias.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), of all private sector charges filed with the agency, these claims were the most common:
Where to Get Help for Employee Complaints
HRinDemand provides investigations into such workplace complaints. Most often, these investigations are requested at the urging of a labor attorney who is concerned that the circumstances involved in the complaint may lead to legal action or to complaints made to governmental agencies.
When we conduct an investigation, we follow these steps:
1. Set up a meeting with the employee, without setting a time limit. This could end up being a long meeting so we are prepared to spend the amount of time needed.
2. We take thorough notes regarding the details of the complaint. The notes are recorded as close to verbatim as possible.
3. The employee is asked to write up their complaint. This is not required because there are many reasons an employee won’t write down their complaint, such as fear, lack of confidence in writing ability or, perhaps, following the guidance of a plaintiff’s attorney.
4. We ask for witnesses to the issue(s) in the complaint. Then, we interview all of the witnesses. Believe me, we learn a lot. If witnesses are discarded, it could have repercussions—just ask a business owner who had to answer a complaint made to the EEOC.
5. To keep the interviews consistent, we pre-draft questions surrounding the allegations made in the complaint. In addition to these questions, we will ask appropriate follow-up questions and gather as much information as possible through our conversations.
6. After completing interviews, we create a report outlining our findings.
7. We recommend that companies provide follow-up to the complainant and respondent to let them know the findings and how the company will handle the complaint. It is okay to notify the complainant about the company’s course of action. Be clear with all of your wording and content to avoid further trouble down the road.
Small business owners with 15+ employees (regardless of employee full-time or part-time status) must comply with Equal Employment Opportunity laws. While I sincerely recommended that every company follow the laws around these important employee rights, those with fewer employees don’t have the same legal responsibilities. To be an employer of choice, discrimination and harassment must be avoided!
Also, regardless of company headcount, if a terminated employee alleges wrongful termination, it should be treated as workplace complaint and receive immediate response. Employees still have rights, even if they no longer work for your company.
While we never wish for you to have an employee complaint, keep our number handy should you need a complaint investigation. We’re here to help.
Melissa Marsh, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a human resources consultant and founder of HRinDemand, a human resources company in Reno, NV, offering expert guidance and easy-to-use tools to help small businesses with employment regulations, compliance, employee relations, and company growth. Subscribe to HR Tips for more human resources news and tips.
Resources: The EEOC website contains a series of Fact Sheets that discuss discrimination by area.