Having a dedicated hotline for employees to report harassment and discrimination makes good sense. A hotline helps two ways. First, it gives employees a way to raise sensitive issues without going directly to their supervisors—who may be part of the problem. The second benefit is important if an employer winds up being dragged into court over trumped up charges: A hotline gives an employer an opportunity to demonstrate that an employee who makes bogus complaints is being unreasonable.
The trick is to track every call as well as the company’s response. Take each call seriously, investigate and reach a conclusion. Make sure you log everything so you can easily explain to a court or jury how you handled the employee’s complaints.
Recent case: William Nellum, who is black, worked for Ford Motor Co. in Evansville for about two years until he was fired. Nellum had a temper and was hard to get along with. Over his brief career at Ford, he was suspended many times for disruptive behavior, such as yelling at his supervisor and co-workers and acting in a threatening manner. Each time he was disciplined, he called the Ford employee complaint hotline.
Ford had set up the hotline so it could promptly investigate and resolve discrimination and harassment complaints. All in all, Nellum complained about “unfair treatment” 17 times—and Ford conducted 17 investigations. Through interviews, the company concluded the complaints were unfounded. Essentially, the investigations served as double-checks on his supervisors’ disciplinary actions.
The court tossed out Nellum’s case, concluding that the record was clear that he had been treated fairly. (Nellum v. Ford Motor Company, No. 3:05-0212, SD IN, 2008)
Final note: Ford’s salvation was patience. If HR orhad begun to ignore Nellum’s calls, then he might have had a stronger case.
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