Chronic complainer? Ignore her at your peril

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in Discrimination and Harassment

We’ve all had employees who seem to live to complain. They grumble about missed promotions, gripe about their supervisors and generally make life miserable for those who have to work with them.

When new complaints arise, none of that matters. Insufferable whining doesn’t mean you can ignore a chronic complainer’s latest beef.

Handle every complaint the same way, no matter the source. Don’t fail to investigate just because an employee has cried wolf in the past.

Recent case: Kadi complained a lot. She said her supervisors didn’t treat her with respect, her disabilities weren’t accommodated, her co-workers got away with disparaging people from her native Sierra Leone and so on. None of her allegations panned out, and her employer quit taking them seriously.

Then Kadi claimed that, following a constant barrage of sexual innuendo, her boss slapped her buttocks. She said on one occasion that he crudely propositioned her while holding his private parts. She also said he told her that if she “lost her support system,” she would “succumb.” Kadi complained, but management initially didn’t do anything.

Eventually, she was transferred, and sued.

Her employer argued that the fact that she lost no pay or benefits meant Kadi hadn’t been harmed, even if what she alleged about her supervisor was true.

The court took a different view. It said Kadi’s sexual harassment case should go to a jury.

Since the employer waited a considerable amount of time before transferring her, its inaction could be viewed as failing to prevent or stop sexual harassment. (Sesay-Harrell v. NYC Department of Homeless Services, No. 12-CIV-925, SD NY, 2013)

Remember: Just because past complaints haven’t panned out, that doesn’t mean any new ones aren’t valid. Always investigate, using a standardized process to ensure neutrality and ­fairness.

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