Monitor boss for retaliation after complaint

Supervisors sometimes get angry when employees accuse them of some form of discrimination. But if that anger spills over into increased scrutiny, more job tasks and other unpleasant conditions for the employees who complained, count on even more legal trouble.

That’s why HR must do more than simply warn supervisors against retaliation.

Here’s what to do: Investigate the allegations and check back with the employee when you complete it. Let her know the result and what to expect. Then remind her you want to know about any subsequent harassment or retaliation.

Going forward, scrutinize any proposed disciplinary actions or other changes that the supervisor suggests.

Finally, follow up at regular intervals with the employee and document her responses. That way, she can’t claim later that she was being punished.

Recent case: Carol Greathouse took a three-month maternity leave and then complained to HR that, during a staff meeting, her supervisor had commented negatively on her time off. When she was terminated about a year later during a reorganization, she sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about sex and pregnancy discrimination.

Greathouse told the court that immediately after her initial complaint, her work came under additional scrutiny. She said when she took a sick day to care for her child, her supervisor called her several times and demanded a medical note, something the company’s standard policy didn’t require. Finally, she claimed she was forced to do additional work that others weren’t required to perform.

The court said the case should go to trial because the sorts of things she said her supervisor subjected her to could be enough to dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining about discrimination in the first place. That’s the definition of retaliation. (Greathouse v. Premier Beverage, No. 8:08-CV-1170, MD FL, 2009)