As a Dallas employment lawyer, I often write about what Texas employees should do to protect their rights but employers also play a role in ferreting out workplace harassment and discrimination. You might own a business or work in human resources and confronted with a situation where an employee alleges harassment or discrimination in the workplace.
Obviously, the best recommendation I could offer is to take each complaint seriously and find an employment attorney that understands employer-side issues to give you specific advice. Even if an employee complains about something that seems on its face not to violate any laws, underlying facts may exist that the employee failed to specifically state or state in a way that made the illegal harassment or discrimination immediately obvious.
If your company has a procedure for reporting and investigating claims of discrimination, you will most likely need to comply. If you are a small employer, there may be no policy or procedure (and of course, for some forms of discrimination certain anti-discrimination laws do not apply). That can create a problem all by itself.
Importance of confidentiality in discrimination investigations
In investigating claims, it is important that you treat the allegations seriously and confidentially. Anybody interviewed or involved in the investigation should know that the issue is confidential. The identity of the employee making allegations should remain confidential. Exposing the complaining employee can risk aggravating the harassment or discrimination and/or lead to retaliation, which will cause further legal problems for your company. Your investigation should be incredibly thorough. Lackluster investigation can be evidence your company ratified the harassment or discrimination by failing to seriously address it. You should make records of the investigation.
Should you find the allegations true, you should follow your company’s disciplinary procedures. Discharging the problem-causing employee(s) requires very serious consideration. At a minimum, some form of substantial (but legal) discipline is necessary. If the problem is systemic, meaning many employees are causing the harassment or discrimination that can be a particular problem because discharging or demoting many employees in a business unit can have seriously adverse consequences for the business. The company should carefully weigh those options but cannot allow any employee involved to not suitably disciplined.
Problems beyond discipline
Do not assume that because you disciplined the employees responsible that the problem disappeared. The disciplined employees or managers may retaliate against the accusing employee or employees like the victim. Prepare for potential EEOC or TWC charges. Do not be surprised if other employees come forward with complaints.
Company-wide or business unit-wide trainings or seminars should be hosted. Particularly if the problem is systemic or part of a larger problem within the company. (For example, if the discrimination was racial and there is a general sense of race discrimination in the unit.) Also consider management-specific trainings to make sure management is prepared to identity and address these concerns.
Although I said it before, obtaining the advice of legal counsel is really important through this process.