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Tips for employers handling discrimination complaints

As an employer, if you have an employee who reports discrimination happening in the workplace directly to his or her supervisor or human resources, it's important to take these complaints seriously and act swiftly in order to avoid the chances of a lawsuit.

The law protects employees' rights to report concerns about these issues without fear of retaliation or negative consequences. But not retaliating against an employee is not enough. The employer also needs to take action quickly once discrimination has been reported, so as not to be viewed later in a lawsuit as a company or business that did not take action despite employees filing reports.

Even if it seems the workplace couldn't possibly have any discrimination incidents, it's important to take the complaints seriously and not assume the person reporting it isn't being truthful, even if it is hard to believe.

Other things employers should NOT do are:

  • Jump to conclusions about what is being reported.
  • Fail to find out whether the complaint involves illegal discrimination (based on sex, race, national origin, disability, age or religion) or another type of discrimination.
  • Decide an investigation isn't needed at this time, even if it's only one person reporting discrimination.

In addition to taking the complaint seriously and listening to the employee reporting it, the employer should:

  • Take detailed notes and document every part of the complaint or complaints.
  • Keep the complaints confidential, only sharing it with those in human resources who need to investigate the complaints, for example.
  • Immediately begin investigating the complaints. This may include hiring a third-party to investigate.
  • From the information obtained throughout the investigation, if evidence shows that an employee did in fact discriminate illegally in the workplace, the employer should appropriately discipline that person. Discipline could include termination if the actions were severe, or could include a warning, suspension or counseling.

If an employee files a discrimination report and feels that his or her employer did not take the complaint seriously, he or she may then file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This could eventually lead to a lawsuit against the employer.

If you are facing a lawsuit or potentially facing a lawsuit as an employer, a business litigation and employment law attorney can help you find out if the other side has a strong case against you. An attorney can also advise you on the best options for your specific situation.

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