Receiving the fat envelope with a claim of potential discrimination from the federal Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state or local agency is never the highlight of a manager or business owner’s day. When the name in the letter is a former employee who quit and never complained about harassment or discrimination in the workplace the first response is commonly, “This can’t be true.”
You Heard the Jokes; You Should Have Seen it Coming
The first stop for a complaint about harassment and discrimination can legitimately be the EEOC, even if you have a policy that clearly states that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated and should be reported. The employee may be uncomfortable making the report or be afraid they will be subject to retaliation. The employer is responsible if they should have known about the offensive behavior.
A senior manager heard the jokes at meetings that repeatedly targeted Indians but did not think twice because everyone was laughing. Team members thought that the IT guy’s imitation of the TV character Apu from The Simpsons was particularly hilarious. Didn’t the Purchasing Manager who was originally from
The email joke you just opened that is the fifth in a series of parodies describing reactions to healthcare reform; the redneck, grandma, Hispanic immigrant, drug addict and now born again Christian, report it to IT and click delete. Was that co-worker really watching mud wrestling on their computer this morning? And every time you walk into Larry’s office it’s impossible to miss all of the exhortations to pray as the only way to avoid the inevitable apocalypse.
OK, some of my examples are a bit extreme, but you get the picture. When you hear, see or read it, and it is inappropriate, take action. Don’t wait for a complaint to correct the situation.
You Should Have Known: Part II
Maybe the employee complained, but not to human resources or a senior manager. Once an employee complains to a supervisor, someone who has authority over any employment actions and directs work activities, the company is basically put on notice. As an organization grows it’s virtually impossible to know everything that is going on.
Your policy that prohibits harassment and discrimination should also require that supervisors and managers report all complaints, allegations and suspected violations. They don’t have to investigate but they should get it off their plate and hand the issue over to someone who can properly handle an inquiry.
Clear policies combined with effective training and communications can help to minimize the surprise of claims filed with external agencies. Instead of a letter from the EEOC you can resolve concerns internally and create the kind of workplace where issues are handled and not hidden.