This is a common occurrence in many shops.   An employee feels that he or she is being harassed for a reason protected under law, but doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble or cause anyone to lose a job.  Can you just listen and do nothing?   Only if you want to get in serious trouble later.   Once an employee puts you on notice that he or she feels there is illegal harassment or discrimination going on, you are required to investigate and take appropriate, effective action to make sure the conduct ceases and is not repeated.

Sometimes merely investigating the conduct causes the other employees to know who is complaining.  This may put that employee in a tough spot with the other employees, but sometimes it cannot be helped.  Taking prompt, effective remedial action does not necessarily mean that heads have to roll, but it does mean that you cannot ignore the problem and simply hope it goes away.  Depending on the severity of the conduct, it may suffice to address the work force as a whole and remind everyone that they have to play nice.   A session on the anti-harassment policy and reminding everyone that you will not tolerate illegal harassment in violation of the policy may be sufficient without having to name names or confront individuals.  If it is more serious, you may have to actually confront the perpetrators and tell them to knock it off or face the consequences.  Make sure that the accuser and the alleged harassers know that ANY form of retaliation for making a complaint is illegal, could subject the company and the individual to liability, and will NOT be tolerated.

It is important to accurately document what you have done to investigate and remedy the situation, that you have warned against retaliation, and that the results have been communicated to the complaining employee.  The complaining employee does not have to approve the remedy, but it is important to let him or her know that you have, in your opinion, effectively addressed the situation, and make sure that he or she knows to immediately report any retaliation or backlash from the other employees.

Sign up and have access to many such “What If” scenarios.  Written by Bill Trumpeter, Labor and Employment Attorney, Miller & Martin PLLC, Chattanooga, TN