Employees who are subjected to illegal or improper conduct in the workplace do not always report the misconduct. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace determined that “roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct.”
This statistic is unsurprising. As explained by the Task Force, “Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.”
The truth of the matter is, most folks who experience problems at work try to avoid the problem because all they want to do is be left alone to their work. Most folks do not want to be known as a constant complainer or a troublemaker.
Failure to Act Can Cause Bigger Issues
While the desire to avoid confrontation is certainly understandable, a failure to act can be detrimental to the employee, particularly in those cases where the problem doesn’t simply go away on its own, as the employee had hoped. The truth of the matter is that problems rarely go away on their own, and avoiding confrontation is rarely a successful solution to any workplace issue. Moreover, and more importantly, if the problem persists and eventually results in some sort of adverse employment action being taken against the employee, the prior failure to act can negatively impact the employee’s ability to enforce his or her rights.
Therefore, whenever serious workplace problems arise, an employee should very seriously consider complaining about these problems to his or her employer.
The reasons for complaining to the employer are many, but here are two of the most important reasons:
1 – Get Help from Someone Who can Provide it
The most important reason for an employee to complain to an employer is to get help. It is not uncommon for the executive leadership of an employer company to be unaware of some impropriety occurring in the workplace.
For example, supervisors who sexually harass their female subordinates do not exactly report that information to their higher-ups. Instead, they go out of their way to hide their improper conduct to avoid getting caught.
By complaining to the higher-ups, who will have the authority to investigate and correct the problem, the employee will make it more likely that the company will intervene on his or her behalf.
In a wide variety of circumstances, the employer is required to intervene. For example, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act specifically make it an unlawful employment act “for an employer, labor organization, employment agency, apprenticeship training program, or any training program leading to employment, to fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.” (Cal. Government Code §12940(k)).
By placing the employer on notice, the employee (depending on the circumstances of the specific situation and complaint) triggers the employer’s statutory obligation.
2 – Document the Problem to Make it Easier to Prove it Later if Need be
Another reason to complain to the employer is to document the existence of the problem, as well as the fact that the employer is aware of the problem.
If the problem is unabated and develops into an adverse employment action, the employee may at that point consider pursuing legal action, including but not limited to a claim for harassment, discrimination, or wrongful termination. In such cases, employers often deny that the unlawful conduct actually occurred, or that even if it did occur that the employer knew about it. Sending a detailed complaint in writing which provides specific facts and information regarding the problem will go a long way towards avoiding that “he said she said” situation.
The complaint should be made in writing and directed to as many higher-ups as is appropriate under the circumstances. Instead of walking over to human resources and verbally making a statement to someone in that department, the better approach is to send an e-mail to the employee’s human resources contact, as well as his or her supervisor, as well as the director of the human resources department, as well as potentially the president of the company. Within the e-mail, it would be helpful to provide specific information and not mere conclusions or generalities. Instead of conveying one’s impression of or feelings toward a particular event or occurrence, it is best to provide specific facts about the occurrence. So, for example, instead of saying “I was sexually harassed,” it is better to describe what happened that made the person feel that way – e.g. “he tried to kiss me on my lips even after I said no.”
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