Discrimination and Harassment Claims in the Workplace
There were 67,448 charges of employment discrimination in FY 2020 filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and of those 35.9% included a harassment claim. Resolution and litigation of these claims resulted in $439.2 Million awarded to victims. This does not necessarily include charges filed at the state level.
Be sure to attend the Webinar “Human Resource Essentials & Trends” May 20, 2021 at 2:00 PM EST. Register Here.
Do you know what to do in the event that a harassment or discrimination complaint is brought forward by someone in your organization? Of the EEOC complaints filed in 2020 over 55% were on the basis of retaliation. If you or your managers don’t know how to respond to concerns from your team regarding discrimination or harassment and improperly handle the situation it could turn into a case of retaliation.
These are the steps for handling a complaint or concern regarding discrimination or harassment.
- Acknowledge the receipt of the concern/complaint. Explain that the organization takes these concerns/complaints seriously and it will be investigated. Acknowledge that the process to investigate may take some time and that they will be advised of the outcome when complete. Also, reassure the complainant that the organization does not tolerate retaliation and they should advise you immediately if they perceive any sort of retaliatory behavior.
- Review your policy to determine who to escalate the concern/complaint to. If you don’t have a policy outlining these details, plan on attending the May 20, 2021 webinar to learn more.
- All Supervisors/Managers/Leaders of your organization should be trained on how to receive and handle a concern/complaint of discrimination or harassment.
- Investigate the concern/complaint. Per your policy, the investigation should be handled by someone qualified to conduct it. Supervisors, managers or other individuals are not necessarily qualified if they haven’t been properly trained. Also, in the case of a complaint from someone who is within the department or a direct supervisor of the complainant, it is best to be investigated by someone else qualified to do so. Often times these investigations will be handled by your HR professional; however, in smaller organizations without a designated and trained HR professional it is best to rely on an experienced third-party such as a consultant or attorney.
- How to conduct the investigation:
- First and foremost, conduct a prompt neutral investigation. Interview the complainant gathering all of the necessary details including any documented evidence such as emails, texts, screen shots, voicemails, social media posts, etc. Also determine if there were any witnesses and gain the names of those individuals. Maintain confidentiality to the extent possible in conducting the investigation.
- Second, interview any witnesses or potential witnesses. Again, gather any documented evidence. The witness interviews may uncover additional named individuals to also be interviewed. All parties to the investigation should be provided the same instructions regarding request for confidentiality and the zero-tolerance for retaliation standards.
- Third, interview the respondent (the named person the complaint or concern is about). Begin by advising that they have been the subject of a complaint and gain their response to the allegation. If they deny the allegation, inquire if there are any reasons why these allegations would be brought against them. Again, gather any documented evidence that supports their position.
- Review all interviews, evidence and supporting details. Conduct any follow up interviews to clarify inconsistencies.
- Determine if there was a violation of policy or a “reasonable person” standard.
- Document the investigation and take prompt remedial action, if necessary.
- Determine if retraining or other action is necessary. Often times, despite every effort to keep the harassment complaint confidential, others are aware that something was going on. Sometimes it’s best to address the elephant in the room and clean up any communication issues and remind the team of the policies and protocols for this. Where there was a clear violation of policy by one individual the situation can be addressed by the mitigation measures determined in the investigation results report. However, usually if there is a perception by one employee that discrimination or harassment is going on, there are others who have remained silent but feel the same. To repair the culture and restore faith in the team, it is important to provide appropriate communication, training and follow up when necessary. Pretending something didn’t happen and ignoring it will destroy the faith of the team and destroy the culture.
Often, organizational leaders are shocked and hurt that discrimination or harassment are happening in the company and are not sure what steps to take. The May 20th webinar will walk through a 3-Step process for prevention of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
To learn more about strategies for prevention of harassment and discrimination in the workplace be sure to attend the Webinar “Human Resource Essentials & Trends” May 20, 2021 at 2:00 PM EST. Register Here.