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How should employers address employee complaints?

Managing employees can be one of the most challenging -- and important -- elements of running a business. This can be particularly true in situations involving complaints of workplace harassment or discrimination.

Navigating these situations can be tricky for employers, as they may be uncomfortable, confusing and upsetting. However, it is crucial that employers across New York take seriously their legal responsibilities when it comes to preventing and responding to claims of workplace misconduct. If you are a business owner, then you should know you can do this in a number of ways.

Prevent misconduct in the first place

One of the most effective ways to protect yourself, your employees and your business is to clearly state policies regarding workplace misconduct in an employee handbook. Define any prohibited practices and behaviors and state the penalties for such offenses.

You might also consider educating supervisors and managers in prohibited behaviors and training them in identifying and responding to misconduct.

Have in place appropriate reporting channels

Requiring employees to talk to immediate supervisors about misconduct is typically not a good idea.

In some cases, an employee may feel uncomfortable discussing certain behaviors with their boss; in other cases, the supervisor may be the person accused of misconduct. Employers should therefore have at least a couple people available and prepared to take complaints.

Take every complaint seriously

Dismissing any report of harassment or discrimination can lead to a costly lawsuit. This is why it is important to take every complaint seriously, even if you don’t ultimately need to take corrective action.

As suggested by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers should be thorough, discreet and swift with investigating each claim. Talk to witnesses, review documentation and then take action to correct the situation, if appropriate.

Consult an attorney

Misconduct in the workplace can have a significant and devastating impact on employees and workplace culture, and employers can be responsible if they fail to respond to complaints appropriately.

If you are an employer, then it would be prudent to discuss with an attorney your legal obligations in terms of responding to these claims as well as what steps you should or should not take to address discrimination and/or harassment. 

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