When you first hear the news that an employee is threatening to file a lawsuit over on-the-job discrimination or harassment, your heart may sink — with good reason.
Not only can lawsuits cost your company money, they disrupt the normal flow of business, can lead to a downward turn in morale among your other employees and damage your brand’s reputation considerably with your clients or customers.
What, if anything, can you do to de-escalate the situation?
Here’s what you can do when an employee complains
When an employee approaches you, a manager or human resources with a complaint about discrimination or harassment, you can bet they’re upset and angry. You need to be responsive to their feelings and their complaint if you want to de-escalate things and avoid litigation.
Here are some of the most important steps to take:
- Listen. Your first instinct may be to protect your company or deny that discrimination or harassment could be happening right under your nose. Don’t do it. Keep an open mind.
- Be respectful. Take the complaint seriously. Do not, under any circumstances, insinuate by statement or question that the complaining employee might have done anything to cause their alleged aggressor to act the way that they did.
- Be prudent. You need to keep the complaint confidential. Not only is that part of respecting your employee’s right to privacy, it’s essential if you want to avoid additional problems. Others in the company may see the victimized employee as a “tattletale” and take actions that could be considered retaliation.
- Investigate. You need to look into their allegations immediately, thoroughly and without prejudice. If need be, hire an outside investigator without bias to handle things.
You need to be particularly careful to avoid any actions that could be construed as retaliation against the complaining employee for exercising their rights, no matter how the investigation ends.
Navigating these troubled waters isn’t easy on your own. Working with an experienced legal team can help.