It may be assumed that an employer already knows the proper way to respond to a complaint of discrimination in the workplace. But, unless they have taken an HR course or have significant experience handling such complaints, they may not be as savvy in the art of dealing with workplace discrimination as you might think. Here are some of the ways a complaint should be handled, if it is to be handled properly.
Employers Should Keep an Open Mind and Treat You with Respect
Employers should remain open-minded when confronted with a discrimination complaint. Yet, that is not always as easy as it should be. Employers must remain unbiased and investigate the complaint regardless of any pre-conceived notions the employer may have about one employee or another. Guilt or innocence should not automatically be presumed or discounted. Sometimes, an employer may simply have a hard time accepting that discrimination is occurring right under their noses. Their own denial of the possibility can hinder their investigation.
Also, employers should consider how vulnerable or afraid the complaining employee may be when making a complaint of discrimination. Deciding to come forward can be difficult, especially if there is a fear of retaliation. Employers should always treat a complaining employee with compassion and respect. Working in a discriminatory or hostile environment is usually distracting and stressful. However, not all employers realize that if they give the impression that a complaint will not be taken seriously, it can further affect that employee's work performance.
Complaints Should Be Kept as Confidential as Possible
Employees who bring complaints of discrimination in the workplace usually expect those complaints to be kept as confidential as possible. Without some degree of confidentiality, the complaining employee can be subjected to retaliation or mistreatment by co-workers. For example, if the employee who has been accused of discrimination knows where the complaint came from, it could lead to more serious discriminatory conduct. If the specifics of the complaint begin to circulate throughout the workplace, the complaining employee may get the cold shoulder from his or her co-workers, as well.
Complete confidentiality is not possible in all cases, because of the nature of the complaint or the need for more substantial investigation in to alleged events. For instance, the employer may need to seek corroboration from other employees who may have witnessed certain events. However, it is usually not necessary to involve the entire workforce or broadcast the specifics of the complaint.
What about retaliation?
Not only are there laws to protect employees from workplace discrimination, but the law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who make complaints of discrimination. The purpose of providing that protection is to encourage employees to come forward with complaints of illegal conduct. So, your employer cannot punish you for complaining about discrimination or for participating in an investigation into discrimination complaints made by someone else.
It is not always easy to tell if you are being retaliated against. Demotion, discipline and termination are very obvious signs, especially when they occur soon after you make a complaint or assist in an investigation. If you suspect your employer's actions may be retaliatory, or if you believe your employer has not responded to your discrimination complaints appropriately, contact the attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.