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Guidelines for Handling Discrimination & Harassment Complaints

The medical and dental fields are no strangers to legal responsibility. Avoiding lawsuits is a crucial factor to the success of your practice as rumors and complaints may taint your reputation within the community. If they happen to arise within your workplace, discrimination and harassment complaints should be dealt with quickly and carefully to reduce your legal risks.

The following basic rules can help guide you safely along the process of handling discrimination and harassment complaints within your workplace.

  • Treat the complainer with respect and consideration.
    • Keep in mind that emotions of an employee can have a significant impact on the quality of their work. If an employee comes to you with a complaint, be understanding and take their problem seriously.
  • Do not blame the complainer.
    • It may be easy to become angry at the complaining employee for the fact that you must now deal with the presence of discrimination or harassment in your practice. However, remember that if you become angry at the employee, you open yourself up to claims of illegal retaliation; not to mention damaging your reputation and lowering productivity.
  • Do not retaliate against the complainer.
    • Retaliation can come in many forms; some more discreet than others. It is illegal, however, to punish someone for complaining about discrimination or harassment in any manner. The most obvious forms of retaliation can include termination, discipline, pay cuts, or even threats to do any of the aforementioned. More subtle forms of retribution may include changing an employee’s shift hours or work area, changing of their job responsibilities, or even excluding the accuser from office functions and meetings.
  • Consistently follow established procedures.
    • If your office already has an established handbook, be sure to follow procedures for dealing with complaints in a consistent manner. Bending the rules can lead to unfair treatment issues. If you don't have an employee handbook, consider creating one that will offer you support in the event of a conflict.
  • Interview the people involved.
    • Begin by talking to the person who voiced the complaint. Then talk to any employees who are being accused of discrimination or harassment and record their details as well. Take notes during your interviews and document everything that is said. It is wise to keep a journal of your investigation as well. Write down the steps you've taken in the pursuit of the truth; including dates, times and places of interviews you have conducted. Additionally, to protect yourself, you should document any action taken against the accused or the reasons for deciding not to take action.
  • Keep it confidential.
    • A discrimination or harassment complaint can damage a workplace. Workers will likely side with either the complaining or the accused employee; which will only ignite rumors and create tension within your practice. Even worse, if details about the complaint are leaked, you may be accused of damaging the reputation of the alleged victim or alleged harasser-and find yourself in the middle of a defamation lawsuit.

Once you have decided the truth in the matter and established a clear story, your next step is to take action against the accused. After reaching your conclusion on the appropriate course of action with the employees, take it quickly and document it.

For more information about how the firm can use its legal experience to assist in any discrimination or harassment matter, contact the offices of Karen McKeithen Schaede Attorney at Law, to schedule a consultation.

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