If you have filed a discrimination complaint at work, it can sometimes feel like your employer is ignoring you, or isn't taking you seriously. And it might be true. How can you know if your employer is doing enough to prevent discrimination or sexual harassment at work? What does a reasonable response to discrimination complaints look like?
In this blog post I will discuss an employer’s responsibility to investigate and correct discrimination or harassment at work. I will explain what an employee should do to bring a hostile work environment to his or her employer’s attention, and what the employer’s reasonable response to discrimination complaints might look like.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act says that discrimination and harassment are illegal if they are based on:
Other federal laws prohibit discrimination based on age, pregnancy, genetic information, and other "protected traits".
But just because something is illegal doesn't mean it doesn't happen. An employer can be held directly responsible for discriminatory employment decisions — like hiring, firing, pay, promotions, or shift assignments — and some conduct of managers or supervisors. However, when discrimination complaints are based on a "hostile work environment" created by coworkers or customers, it is up to the employee to show that the employer failed to reasonably respond to discrimination complaints.
To start with, before an employer has a duty to respond, it must know the discriminatory behavior is happening. An employer can be assumed to know about hiring and firing decisions. But especially in larger companies, your HR department may not know about what happens in the office or on the factory floor. When that includes discrimination, employees should:
In many cases, if you don't follow your company's complaints procedure, it can affect your employer's responsibility to reasonably respond to discrimination complaints. If you have questions about what you need to do to register your issue, bring your employee manual to talk to an employment discrimination attorney soon after the incident so you don't miss any deadlines.
A reasonable response to discrimination complaints depends on the nature of those complaints, the size of the company, what happened, and who is involved. No matter how big or small the company, during the investigation, you should expect:
A reasonable investigation of a discrimination complaint does take time. It could take days or even weeks for your employer to interview everyone and decide the appropriate response. Some forms of discipline may also be invisible to the complainant. However, if you haven't heard anything after a few weeks, it is perfectly appropriate to follow up with your employer.
If your employer's investigation does reveal that discrimination or harassment occurred, it is legally required to take immediate measures to stop the harassment and make sure it doesn't happen again. What that response looks like will depend on what happened, and how serious the offense. A reasonable response to discrimination complaints could include:
If your employer's response to your discrimination complaint isn't reasonable, you may be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in federal court. But deciding if the response was reasonable isn't always easy. You may not have all the information, or your employer may not want to tell you how it reached its decision.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our sexual harassment attorneys know what a reasonable response to discrimination complaints looks like. We will meet with you to review your situation and your options, so you can be free of harassment at work. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.