By: Joseph Rust

Your employee came to you and just made a complaint of harassment or discrimination. However, seemingly minor, you as the employer, have a duty to investigate the complaint. You may be left wondering what exactly you are supposed to do. While there are no hard fast rules and all complaints are unique, here are a few tips:

Understand the Complaint

Employee complaints encompass the full range from serious allegations that require official action and minor wrongs with little to no substance. It is also important to remember and realize that complaints are subjective, and what may seem like “no big deal,” to you, could really be affecting your employee’s work and personal life. Do not become too cynical to employee complaints. At the end of the day, your job is to run and make the business better. Ignoring employee complaints, especially those stemming from harassment, will undoubtedly lead to high turnover in your business.

Take the time to listen to your employee and understand what she or he is telling you. Make sure the employee understands you take all complaints seriously and are glad they brought it to your attention. It’s also important for you to inform the employee that you need to know immediately of any retaliation or ongoing harassment following bringing the complaint.

Plan the Investigation

After listening to the complaint, determine whether the complaint, if true, violates the law or your policies. If the answer is yes, you must investigate further.

Is immediate action warranted? Is the allegation serious enough to warrant suspension of the harasser? If any related documents to the incidents of harassment or discrimination exist, ensure they are preserved immediately. You have a duty to preserve all documents or possible evidence of harassment if it is apparent a complaint or lawsuit may be filed.

Map out a plan that covers the important people and situations to investigate the complaint. Will you be handling the investigation or someone else in your business? Interview the employee bringing the complaint. Ask open-ended questions and seeks facts that help or disprove the allegations. Interview other employees in the same manner.

Conduct Interviews

Interview the accused. Do not be accusatory, you are simply trying to understand all the facts. Make sure the accused understands the allegations but assure them a fair investigation will be conducted.

Take Action and Make a Conclusion

Take everything you have gathered and determine if action needs to be taken based on the complaint and what type of action is warranted. It would be a good idea to consult with an outside HR representative or your attorney to conclude the investigation.

Whether action against the accused is warranted or not, you should discuss the conclusion and investigation at some level with the employee who brought the complaint. If you conducted a thorough investigation, wrote and kept complete documentation of the entire process, you put your business in a good position to defend any future litigation that may stem from an employee unhappy with the results of your investigation.