How to Approach Discriminatory Complaints as a Victim or as a Manager

Sometimes, it can be difficult to step forward to protect yourself from discrimination in the workplace. On the other side of the fence, it can be difficult for others to spot discrimination, especially when it isn’t happening to them.

These dynamics make it difficult for both victims and supervisors to know the right thing to do when faced with a discrimination complaint. In this article, we’ll detail how usual complaints processes go, so you can adequately prepare.

What is a discrimination complaint?

Before anything else, let’s first discuss what exactly a discrimination complaint is. A discrimination complaint is an allegation by an employee of unfair treatment on any aspect of employment. This biased treatment may be due to the individual’s race, religion, gender, color, national origin, disability, or any other characteristic protected by law.

What to do as a victim filing a diversity complaint

If you’re planning to file a complaint, make sure to gather relevant information to back your claims before you approach your supervisor and ask for a private meeting. This is how the procedure may play out:

  1. State your complaint to your supervisor.
  2. Expect to be asked questions about your allegations, and be prepared to answer honestly and comprehensively.
  3. If your supervisor completes a complaint form, ensure that all information supplied is correct before signing. Ask for a copy of the signed form.
  4. Your supervisor will then refer you to the company’s human resources department, who will oversee investigating and analyzing the incident.
  5. Keep a log of other events to occur after making the complaint, especially written materials related to your case. 
  6. Wait to be invited for an interview regarding the case. This will be done either by an investigator either from the company or from outside. The accused will also be interviewed in the same manner.
  7. Answer the interview questions truthfully.
  8. Wait for a decision to be made regarding the case.

For the duration of the process, it might also be best that you refrain to discuss the case with your coworkers or anyone else.

How to handle diversity complaints as a manager

As a manager, remember that you’re likely the first person your employee will turn to if they wish to make a complaint. This is an important responsibility that requires your efficient and effective handling. Thus, it’s critical to understand and follow a careful process:

  1. If an employee approaches you to make a complaint, schedule a meeting as soon as possible in a safe, quiet, and private setting.
  2. If a formal complaint form exists within the organization, use it to note all the details. If not, take careful handwritten notes. Listen attentively to the employee’s responses based on the questions you ask during the interview.
  3. Be objective, fair, and open for the duration of the meeting. Respond clearly and consistently to any questions the complainant asks.
  4. Thank the individual for stepping forth to file a complaint, and reassure the employee that you will maintain confidentiality of the information they shared.
  5. Advise the complainant of the next steps in the complaint process.

Under no circumstances should you ever ignore a complaint, no matter whom the employee is accusing. Be truthful as well in your promise to maintain the confidentiality of the information—do not divulge the details to anyone, and do not break your employee’s trust.

Note: This post is excerpted from Dr. Cherry Collier’s “The Science and Art of Breaking Down the Barriers and Bias in Diversity” available here.

Dr. Cherry

Cherry A. Collier, Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist, Strategist, Executive Coach, and Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging Consultant for Personality Matters, Inc. Her science-based approach and brain-based techniques, propel people, teams, and organizations to build bridges and work from the inside out to achieve their goals. Dr. Cherry specializes in emotional intelligence, neuroscience, leadership development, and DEI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She received her Doctorate and Master of Science in Applied Social/Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia and Graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College. She is the author of more than twenty-five Human Behavior related books for leaders, executives, and coaches. Dr. Cherry is often called the DEI Whisperer because she has a unique ability to fiercely “hold the space” and be totally present which creates a psychologically safe environment that allows others all the space they need to fully express themselves. She listens to others with head, heart and hands approach so that they are heard, seen and understood.