What should an employer do upon receiving a complaint of discrimination or harassment?

Author: Rhonda Leabo

Upon receiving a complaint of discrimination or harassment, an employer should take prompt action and initiate a complete, thorough and confidential investigation into the allegations of the complaint.

The employer's policy regarding the handling of complaints of discrimination and harassment should be laid out in the employee handbook and the employer should follow established procedures to avoid any claims of unfair treatment. From the outset, the employer may wish to consult counsel to provide legal advice and assist with the investigation.

In the context of the investigation, it is important for the employer to gather all relevant documentary evidence as well as conduct interviews of the complainant, the alleged wrongdoer and any third party witnesses. The employer should create an investigation file and thoroughly document the witness interviews as well as any findings. All of this information should be confidential and disclosed only to those with a need to know.

Further, it may be appropriate to for the employer to take interim measures while the investigation is taking place, to assure the comfort and safety of the complainant. At the conclusion of the investigation, the employer should determine the appropriate action to be taken and thoroughly document same. The wrongdoer and the complainant should be notified of the discipline that will be imposed.

In more serious instances, it may be appropriate for the employer to terminate the wrongdoer. Lesser offenses may merit a written warning, or counseling, depending on the established policies set forth in the employer's employee handbook.

It is important to remember that an employer can never take any retaliatory measures against the complainant in the form of discipline, demotions, pay cuts or threats.