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Handling an Employee Complaint

As an employer and an entrepreneur, the highest and best use of your time is spent in working in your business. The most frustrating part of your job as a manager is likely to be the moment when you receive the charge from the NJ Division of Civil Rights (DCR) or EEOC alleging that you or one of your employees has committed some form of harassment and discrimination.

In most cases, you have already been notified about the facts and circumstances supporting the charge. It is likely that the charging employee will have complained to HR or a supervisor about his or her concerns. At this juncture, it is imperative for you to contact your attorney to investigate the merits of the complaint and ensure that any offending behavior, if deemed to have occurred, is stopped and addressed immediately. As an employer, you strive to maintain a safe and healthy working environment, which has the added benefit of increasing productivity and reducing "drama."

However, there will be times when you find yourself faced with an employee complaint about harassment, discrimination or bullying (to be discussed in a subsequent post).

Here are some tips on how to handle this situation:

1. Assess the threat. Review the charge carefully to identify the players involved and the facts being alleged. You must act fast to investigate, especially if the employee is alleging a concern related to personal safety or physical assault.

2. Call your lawyer. As the company, you need to retain someone to conduct an investigation into what happened and whether the allegations are true. These investigations are a critical part of the process in insulating the company from the alleged bad actor's behavior. And unfortunately, this is not one of those times when DIY is helpful.

3. Investigate the claims. Your attorney will initiate the investigation and handle the charge for you by filing the responsive statements, appearing at the fact finding meetings with you, and preparing you for the administrative investigation through a mediation or conciliation processes or a fact finding hearing.

4. Address the situation.

The goal of this process is for you, as the employer, to have acted fast to investigate the claims, to have addressed any validated violations and to receive a finding from the administrative agency that states that they did not find enough evidence to support the charge. However, with either process, the employee, having exhausted their administrative remedies, may still file a lawsuit against you. However, receiving a finding of no cause from a well handled administrative process is more likely to deter the subsequent filings.

Going through a process like this is also a good time to revisit your employee handbook to make sure that it clearly and unequivocally outlines your company policies. Failure to have an employee handbook or to do routine trainings exposes the employer to liability and may result in deficiency notices from the EEOC and/or the DCR.

Please contact the Hamilton Law Firm PC and Ayesha Hamilton, Esq. if you find yourself in this situation or have any questions.

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