An employee arrives at your office, and asks to speak with you. You agree and they tell you a story of alleged harassment, inappropriate behavior by their supervisor, and finish by indicating they don’t want you to do anything, but they needed to get the information of their chest, they do not want to get anyone in trouble. Sound familiar? This is all too common a behavior by employees, and the request is something far too many managers agree to without recognizing the risk and danger of taking no action.
Liability and risk in your employment practices can come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, however this situation falls right in the lap of a member of the management team and there is an obligation to act to protect the employee and the rest of the workforce, and adhere to all your policies and procedures. Further, you need to protect the business, and you cannot do this by ignoring the report of alleged inappropriate behavior or policy violations in your workplace.
When the employee shares information in the form or a complaint or allegation, you should advise him or her that while you will keep the information as confidential as possible, based on the content of the information you have an obligation to report the matter to leadership and to act accordingly. The action you will take is to investigate the allegation(s) to determine if there is any validity to the claim and respond accordingly. The way the employee presents the information has little to do with whether the information is to be considered a complaint or allegation. The employee does not have to make the matter formal, or even document the matter, to have reported it. Keep this in mind when you develop and establish policies and practices for supervisors and managers with regards to complaints and allegations.
Failure to act can later result is serious consequences such as the matter getting worse, other employees experiencing similar treatment, or the employee decides to file a complaint with a regulatory enforcement agency. If later, it is uncovered that the employee reported the matter to a member of management and no action was taken, there could be severe penalties imposed and your position to defend the matter will diminish.
Therefore, it is wise to take each complaint presented seriously, and to initiate an investigation into the complaint or allegations to determine the facts and execute appropriate steps to resolve the matter internally. Document everything from the information provided by the employee to the actions taken to substantiate or validate the matter. Handling employee concerns in this manner is both strategic and appropriate to enhance the risk management of your employment practices.