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Handling Complaints

How Do You Handle a Complaint?

If you receive a complaint of harassment or discrimination, it’s vital that it is handled in an efficient and timely manner. If complaints aren’t handled properly, this can have a negative impact on employee morale and productivity. Provide, in confidence, advice and assistance to employees subjected to harassment or discrimination in the resolution of any problems, whether through informal or formal means. There are a number of considerations and steps you need to take when you receive a complaint.

Keep an open mind when an employee raises a complaint with you. Some managers believe that harassment or discrimination could never happen in their workplace, but it can happen anywhere. Escalate every complaint you receive and don’t jump to any conclusions until the investigation is complete. You can find out who to escalate complaints here. They will conduct the investigation and inform you of any role you need to play.

Sometimes, employees can find it very difficult to raise harassment or discrimination issues, so it’s vital that you act in an understanding manner. If employees are afraid to raise issues, this will have a negative impact on team morale and the quality of their work. Taking an understanding approach to all complaints will help allay the fears of employees and encourage them to come forward when they have an issue. If employees know that you treat complaints seriously, they will be less likely to look for outside intervention to resolve their issues.

Always remember that the employee reporting an issue is more than likely the victim and not the cause of the problem. It could be easy to resent the employee because you now have a potential harassment or discrimination issue in your department. If you come across as resentful, you risk exposing yourself and the company to a claim of retaliation.

Punishing an employee for complaining about harassment or discrimination is not only wrong, it violates our company’s policy and is also unlawful. Examples of retaliatory actions include, among other things, demotion, salary reductions, and refusing promotion. More subtle forms of retaliation include changing job responsibilities, increasing workload, isolating the accuser and excluding them from group activities.

Let’s look at some additional considerations when handling complaints.

Always follow our anti-harassment and discrimination policies. Don’t expose yourself or our company to claims of unfair treatment by not following our policies. Contact HR or Legal and they will properly oversee the investigation process.

Always inform the employee making the complaint that you will keep the complaint confidential to the fullest extent possible under the law. This is important in itself, and, as it is not unusual to see employees take sides in a harassment or discrimination case it is also important that the complaint stays out of the public domain to maintain neutrality. If details about a complaint are leaked, you may be accused of damaging the reputation of the alleged victim or alleged harasser and face a defamation lawsuit.

Malicious complaints of harassment and/or discrimination can have a serious and detrimental effect upon a colleague and the workplace generally. Any unwarranted allegation of harassment and/or discrimination made in bad faith may be dealt with through disciplinary action, if necessary. Employees will appreciate that this is necessary to protect the integrity of the complaints policy and mechanism.

Sexual Harassment

Nathan is a member of your team. He recently approached you and mentioned that another team member, Sunee, has been constantly asking him out and openly flirting with him. This has made Nathan feel uncomfortable, so he asks you for advice on how to handle the situation.

  •  Tell Nathan that you’ll launch a harassment investigation that will lead to disciplinary action against Sunee.
  •  Assure Nathan that you understand the position he is in and that you’ll speak to Sunee privately to say that you’ve noticed her behaviour lately has been unacceptable and needs to stop.
  •  Tell Nathan that he should be flattered that Sunee finds him attractive and leave him to deal with the situation.
  •  Inform HR of the conversation you had with Nathan so that they are aware of the situation and explain that you’ll speak to Sunee about her behaviour.

Certain situations don’t immediately warrant launching a formal investigation. By talking to the parties involved, you can try to prevent the situation escalating to a point where one of the parties feels they need to lodge a formal complaint. However, if talking to both parties doesn’t result in the required behaviour change, you’ll need to inform the appropriate department and they will launch a formal investigation.
You can find out who to contact to report harassment or discrimination here.

You speak with Sunee and inform her that her behaviour is unacceptable and needs to stop. Two weeks pass, and Nathan approaches you again to tell you that not only is Sunee still flirting with him, but she’s also started to send him lewd and suggestive text messages and emails. Nathan tells you he wants to file a formal sexual harassment complaint.

  • Tell Nathan that you’ll personally conduct a harassment investigation and guarantee him that Sunee will be appropriately disciplined at the end of it.
  • Assure Nathan that this is a serious matter and that you will immediately raise it with the appropriate department and they will conduct an investigation.
  • Tell Sunee that you had warned her about her behaviour and that she’s now going to be subject to a harassment investigation.
  • Tell Nathan that the company will keep the complaint confidential to the fullest extent possible under the law.

You should never investigate any concerns or complaints that are brought to your attention; even though your efforts might be well-intentioned. Doing so might create additional issues or could undermine the company’s ability to investigate and address the concerns. Always inform the employee making the complaint that you will keep the complaint confidential to the fullest extent possible under the law.

Promotion

A senior position in another team recently became available. The company decided to fill the position internally and three of your team applied for the position. None of them was successful. One of the applicants, Tyler, tells you he’s very disappointed that he didn’t get the position and feels he was overlooked because of his age. Tyler is 57. The person that got the position was more qualified than Tyler. Tyler asks you for advice on what his next action should be.

  •  Tell Tyler that he could very well have a case for age discrimination and suggest that he seeks legal counsel on the matter.
  •  Explain to Tyler that a more qualified candidate got the position and that the decision wasn’t a reflection on his ability or age.
  •  Tell Tyler that he needs to get over his disappointment, stop complaining, and get on with his job.

Failing to gain a promotion can be very disappointing. When an individual fails to gain a promotion, you need to empathize with the individual, while also being honest with them about why they didn’t get the position. If you fail to handle a situation like this with tact and compassion, it could lead to the employee filing a discrimination complaint. It is also important to keep HR informed of any situations in your team that could potentially escalate into discrimination cases.

Harassing Behaviour

One of your team members, Izzy, reveals that she’s become a victim of jokes about her nationality and religion from a new team member, Hilda. The jokes have gotten more hateful in recent weeks, with Hilda directing some very offensive comments at Izzy during team meetings. She’s spoken to Hilda directly about this but she’s continued her behaviour. Izzy feels Hilda’s comments are racist and she’s considering lodging a formal harassment complaint against her.

  •  Tell Izzy not to take the comments to heart as Hilda is only trying to fit in with a new team.
  •  Tell Izzy that you understand how Hilda’s comments impact her and that you’ll escalate this issue so that a formal investigation can be launched.
  •  Keep a documented record of your conversation with Izzy.
  •  Inform HR so that they can investigate the complaint.

Thanks for helping your colleagues. Sometimes employees can find it very difficult to raise harassment or discrimination issues, so it’s vital that you act in an understanding manner and let the person know that we will investigate thoroughly. It’s also important that you inform HR of the situation immediately.

  • All complaints must be handled in an efficient and timely manner.
  • Sometimes employees can find it very difficult to raise harassment or discrimination issues, so it’s vital that you act in an understanding manner while also maintaining a degree of neutrality to ensure impartiality.
  • Punishing an employee for complaining about harassment or discrimination is not only wrong, it violates company policy and is also unlawful.
  • Always follow our anti-harassment and discrimination policies.
  • Contact HR if an investigation is warranted. They will appropriately oversee the investigation process.

Remember, if you are ever unsure of what action to take, you can find out who you can contact for advice here

Download our Anti Harassment and Discrimination booklet.
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