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Employee complains and then quits? Investigate anyway, to prove what happened

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When you get a discrimination or harassment complaint, it’s essential to launch an immediate investigation. If the employee quits, continue the investigation. That way, in case of a lawsuit, you can show the court you took the complaint seriously.

Recent case: Rhonda worked for Fluor Enterprises as a utility worker. She complained via the company’s hotline that her supervisor treated others better than her. Fluor immediately launched an investigation, as it routinely did when em­­ployees complained via hotline. But Rhonda quit just days later, long before the investigation concluded.

Then Rhonda sued, alleging a variety of harassment and discrimination claims.

The court tossed out her suit. It reasoned that Rhonda had made just one official complaint, which the company immediately investigated. That showed the process worked—and that Rhonda hadn’t given it a chance. (Woolard v. Fluor Enterprises, No. 4:10-CV-3623, SD TX, 2013)

Final note: Rhonda’s lawsuit was one of several against Fluor. In each case, it was clear the employees either didn’t use the hotline or other complaint processes outlined in the handbook, or that Fluor investigated and fixed problems that were brought to its attention.

Courts understand that ­­employers can’t be everywhere all the time. How­­ever, as long as they are diligent about fixing problems, chances are they won’t be held liable. Fluor acted immediately to respond to and investigate allegations when employees did their part and reported the problem.

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