How HR Can Handle Discrimination Complaints

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There is no question that increased workplace diversity translates directly into business results. A more diverse workplace is one that is more productive and creative. It also has the ability to expand a business’s customer base and improve its public reputation.


HR professionals spend a lot of time and energy carefully cultivating a diverse workforce. Hiring, policies and procedures, training, and succession planning all play a role in fostering diversity at work. It’s disheartening that despite all these efforts, discrimination and harassment still exist and will likely happen at your workplace. Harassment doesn’t just impact the victim, it affects the whole work environment. If you see evidence, or receive a complaint, about discrimination or harassment, it’s your duty to immediately address it.


When employees believe they have been discriminated against, the situation can become highly emotional. The victim will often feel sad, angry, or anxious. It’s important to remain calm and remember a few key tips when handling a discrimination or harassment incident:


1. Listen

It takes a great deal of courage for an employee to report someone in the workplace has discriminated against them. Listen to their account of the situation and take notes. Always take the issue seriously, even if the victim has a history of making frivolous complaints. Reassure them that you appreciate the seriousness of their complaint and make it a priority to resolve.


2. Investigate

After you’ve listened to the victim’s statement and taken thorough notes, you must conduct an investigation to verify the complaint. You will likely need to conduct interviews with both employees involved and any staff who may have witnessed the incident.


3. Keep records

One of your key roles in the investigation is to document everything. Seemingly unimportant details are critical.  All details must be accounted for in the event the case is brought to court. You will also want to maintain a record of the investigation process as it may help improve workplace policies and procedures.


4. Prevent retaliation

The victim should never be at risk of being retaliated against. If this occurs, future victims may not come forward. It’s your duty to ensure that all parties involved, including managers, know that retaliation, or the threat of retaliation, is illegal.  


5. Act immediately

If you receive a complaint you must act to investigate and resolve the issue immediately. Failing to do so can put the victim at additional risk. Delaying can also escalate the situation should the victim choose to report the incident to external authorities.

Even if a complaint seems insignificant, it’s your responsibility to engage and investigate the issue. Discrimination and harassment investigations are not an easy task, but they are necessary to protect the victim and the company’s reputation.  


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