I keep seeing how employees make the same easily avoidable mistakes when submitting discrimination or harassment complaints about a co-worker or a manager. If you are about to submit such a complaint to your management, makes sure that you avoid these common mistakes in order to maximize the chances of the employer actually helping you and/or ensuring that your rights or potential claims are protected:
1. Don’t Turn Your Harassment Complaint Into A Long Story
I have seen complaints that were 10 pages or longer, which resembled an extensive essay rather than a document or a memo. They would start with the history of a complainant’s good performance, his job duties, his accomplishments, and only after you read it for 15 minutes or longer you start having some kind of idea of what the complaint is about.
There is no reason for your complaint to be longer than one page. Describe the incident or the situation specifically and ask for help. For instance:
I would like to complain about what I believe is unlawful discrimination and harassment. My immediate supervisor repeatedly calls me a Spik and says that I am occupying a white man’s position. I would appreciate a meeting with you to discuss what action can be taken to stop this. Than you and I look forward to hearing from you. “
You can provide more detail later.
2. Don’t Be Too Vague In Your Complaint
Use these specific terms “discrimination”, “harassment” and “retaliation” if they apply to your complaint. Otherwise, simply telling your employer that you feel like you are being treated unfairly or in a rude manner does not put your employer on notice that you are actually complaining about unlawful workplace discrimination or harassment. And when your employer is not on notice that you are actually complaining about discrimination or harassment, they don’t have an obligation to investigate and remedy the situation. Moreover, if they fire you for making a complaint, where it’s not clear that you complained about discrimination or harassment, you won’t be able to make a retaliation claim either, because making such a claim requires showing that you engaged in a “protected activity”.
3. Don’t Exaggerate
Also, don’t exaggerate allegations. Don’t complain about every possible thing under the sun. I have seen complaints that included age, race, disability and sexual orientation complaints all in one. It is hard to take that kind of complaint seriously. You must have at least some basis for complaining about discrimination beyond merely being a member of one of those classes.
4. Don’t Be Rude
Your harassment or discrimination complaint is the time or place to tell your employer how awful they are, how much you hate them, how you wish you never worked there and how you can’t wait to sue them. You should only be asking for help. When you threaten or point fingers, you reduce the chances of the employer actually wanting to help you and you also hurt your chances of having a strong discrimination or wrongful termination case later.
This is because if that nasty letter or e-mail ends up in court, the judge and the jury are going to see it. They are not going to have a personal experience of knowing how badly you were treated at work; only you know that. But they are going to see how you spoke to your management, and this will certainly not make the judge or the jury more generous or compassionate toward you.
5. Don’t Forget to Have Written Record of Complaining About Discrimination That You Experience
You might be surprised how often the employers say that they never actually received the complaint, when they are being sued by the same employee. Make sure that you complain in writing with proof of transmission. Send an e-mail and/or fax at least to your HR management and one of the higher managers. This way, they will never be able to say that they never received your complaint.
So, make sure that your complaint of discrimination or harassment is (a) brief; (b) sufficiently specific; (c) free of exaggeration (d) polite and (e) in writing, to makes sure that you are doing everything right at least on your part about the unpleasant situation you are dealing with.