Dealing with Diversity Complaints as a Manager

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Workplace complaints regarding discrimination generally originate with employees — or through exit interviews. They can also come through notification of an EEOC or similar agency, or by letter from an attorney.

As a manager, you are often the first point of contact when an employee wishes to make a complaint. Because efficient and effective handling of a complaint is an important responsibility, it is critical to understand and follow a careful process.

Recording the Complaint

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When you are approached by an employee who wishes to make a complaint, schedule a time as soon as possible to meet in a quiet, private setting.

If a formal complaint form exists within the organization, use it to note all the details. If not, take careful handwritten notes. Listen attentively to the employee’s responses based on the questions you ask during the interview. At a minimum, ask for and document the following information:

  • Date and time of the complaint
  • Name of employee filing the complaint
  • Home and work telephone numbers and e-mail address
  • Employee’ s position and supervisor
  • Name of accused employee
  • Accused employee’s position
  • The incident(s) of the complaint.

Make sure to be objective, fair, and consistent, and respond clearly and consistently to any questions the complainant asks. Thank the individual for his or her willingness to file a complaint, and assure the employee that you will maintain confidentiality. Advise the individual of the next steps in the process.

Identifying Appropriate Actions

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In many companies, there is a designated diversity officer or member of the Human Resources department who is responsible for taking and investigating diversity complaints. If you work at a small company without a designated individual or a human resources department, go to your direct superior and ask with whom you should file your report.

  • Provide your notes and records to this person.
  • At no time discuss the complaint with anyone else, as the person who made the complaint was promised confidentiality.

Under no circumstances should you ever ignore a complaint.

Choosing a Path

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In discrimination cases, it is likely that an investigation will occur. Your action path must include a high degree of professionalism and cooperation. Below are several suggestions.

  • Participate fully in an investigation
  • Continue to monitor the situation in your workgroup
  • Report any new complaint information you receive to the diversity officer or human resources representative
  • Arrange for a short paid leave for the employee, if warranted
  • If the issue is a violation and your employee is being accused, you may need to temporarily reassign him or her. Obtain pertinent advice from your human resources department
  • Assume business as usual. Remain calm and cordial, and business-like in your interactions with all of your team members and colleagues
  • Continue to maintain an open door environment
  • Be consistent; continue enforcing policies and rules consistently and fairly.

Module Ten: Case Study

Henry sighed as he sat across from his boss, Sheila. “That’s everything. I waited for a long time to tell you about the harassment, because I was afraid I’d get into trouble.”

Sheila said, “I just want to let you know that I will be referring this complaint to the human resources department. Everything you’ve said will be kept confidential.” She then said, “I’m glad you let me know how you’ve been feeling. You did the right thing telling me.”

Henry visibly relaxed. “I’m so glad you said that, Sheila.”

Before he left, Sheila said, “I just wanted to remind you not to discuss this matter with your co-workers, to make sure that this is handled properly and professionally.”

Henry said that he would not discuss the complaint with his co-workers. Then he returned to work, relieved that he had made the complaint.