When employees complain about alleged discrimination or harassment, smart HR pros make it a point to check back regularly with the employee who voiced the complaint. Then, they document those conversations and address any problems reported by the employee.
This simple step carries two important benefits: It helps the employee feel good about the company’s response (and, thus, may prevent a legal claim down the road), and it allows you to build a defense against the employee’s potential claim that he was retaliated against.
Recent case: In his first years as a chemist for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Anthony Campbell received good reviews. In fact, he looked like a rising star.
But after Campbell was transferred to another office, his new supervisor offered a less-than-glowing review. Campbell, who is black, filed an internal complaint, alleging the appraisal was racially motivated.
Then he sued, claiming that as a result of his complaint, he was denied promotional opportunities that white co-workers got and essentially was sidelined in a dead-end job.
The court sent the case to trial, saying the allegation that Campbell was denied opportunities white co-workers got was enough to keep his lawsuit alive. (Campbell v. Korleski, No. 2:10-CV-1129, SD OH, 2011)
Final note: If HR had checked in on Campbell after he filed his internal complaint, it might have learned that he felt mistreated. The simple inquiry would have created an opportunity to either document that his concerns were false or provide a springboard to fix the problem. If Campbell had reported no problems, that would itself have been important evidence to combat his subsequent retaliation lawsuit.
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- Common sense prevails: Simply belonging to protected class doesn't justify bias lawsuit
- Patience, paperwork: The right way to fire serial complainers