Smart employers carefully track complaints to show that they respond quickly to alleged discrimination and treat it seriously. Done properly, a tracking system gives you ammunition if you ever need it in court.
Here are some best practices for handling complaints:
- Start by creating an easy way for employees to lodge complaints—e.g., a toll-free hotline or e-mail box to receive initial complaints.
- Then develop a protocol for dealing with any calls or e-mails. Clarify who is responsible for reading the complaints and creating a log or spreadsheet with the relevant information.
- Set strict time limits for the initial response—preferably within one business day.
- Then track those return calls or e-mails in the log, noting whether the employee wants to pursue the complaint.
- Finally, have a standard information packet available and note whether the employee wanted a copy. If so, note the date and method of delivery.
Recent case: Joanne Tillery worked for the Department of Homeland Security and sued for alleged sexual harassment. Tillery said her manager propositioned her.
Federal employees have to file an internal complaint within 45 days, or lose the right to sue. Tillery claimed she tried to contact the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity office many times during that 45-day period.
When she sued, Homeland Security testified that it retains all phone messages, always returns calls within 24 hours, records the complaint and sends out a packet. Its records indicated that Tillery called once, well past the 45 days. The court tossed her case. (Tillery v. Napolitano, No. 09-80572, SD FL, 2010)