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What to do When You’ve Been Accused of Workplace Discrimination

What to do When You’ve Been Accused of Workplace Discrimination

Reports of harassment and discrimination in the workplace are at an all-time high. With this in mind, Portland small business owners need to do 2 things:

  1. Act in a way to avoid accusations in the first place
  2. Understand how to properly handle any complaints and accusations that arise

Today we’ll be focusing on this second point — what to do when you’re faced with an accusation.

As a small business owner, the actions you take after a harassment or discrimination allegation (whether it’s against you or another employee) can limit your liability and negative publicity, helping you maintain strong and positive working relationships.


Protect your company. Enlist the help of your HR attorney.

If you do one thing, let it be this — contact your attorney.

Handling a complaint is a delicate process. One wrong move and your company could face significant liability. The correct response to an accusation is not always intuitive. It often requires a solid understanding of complex local and federal laws and regulations.

That’s why your first move should be to consult your attorney. With the assistance of your legal counsel, you can confidently take the right next steps and ensure the best outcome.

There’s no better time than the present to enlist the help of a Portland business attorney. However, best practice is to develop an attorney-client relationship before any problems arise. That way, you’ll gain the legal guidance needed to understand how to stay in compliance and avoid harassment and discrimination complaints to begin with.


Every case is unique. If you’re dealing with a workplace harassment or discrimination complaint, consult your small business attorney immediately.


Once you’ve enlisted the help of your HR attorney, everything else will flow from there. They will guide you on what steps to take and how. However, there are a few essential things you should know about handling a complaint right off the bat.


1. Take reports seriously & respectfully

Look at the situation from the employee’s perspective — coming forward with a complaint can be extremely difficult. The person will often feel vulnerable and afraid.

The way you treat the situation can affect the person’s quality of work and can even lead them to seek outside legal representation and take you to court. Reacting negatively can also run the risk of polarizing your workplace, hurting employee morale, and lowering productivity.

Help this person feel more comfortable and avoid escalating the situation by taking the report very seriously and treating them with respect. Never become angry. Instead, thank them for raising the concern.

From there, the best way to show you’re taking the report seriously is to take swift and appropriate action to investigate and resolve the issue.


2. Do not retaliate

In the same vein, you should never punish the person for complaining. This includes:

  • Termination
  • Discipline
  • Demotion
  • Pay cut
  • Changing job responsibilities
  • Location transfer
  • Schedule changes
  • Exclusion from meetings or other work functions
  • Negative performance evaluation

Even threatening to do any of these things as a result of bringing a complaint can be considered a form of retaliation.

To learn more about retaliation and related issues, check out Facts About Retaliation from the EEOC.


3. Document everything

Throughout the process, keep a written record detailing the following, plus any other steps or actions taken:

  • Written account of what happened from the accuser
  • Notes detailing information about interviews with involved parties
  • Formal report of findings from the investigation
  • Discipline imposed on the accused
  • Reason for not imposing discipline
  • Conclusions

These written documents could become essential evidence if the employee files a complaint with the EEOC. Also be sure to preserve and relevant emails, memos, or other documents.


4. Adopt an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy

Here in Oregon, select business industries are required to maintain specific policies and practices relating to harassment and discrimination. Regardless, drafting this type of policy is very important.

If you already have documented policies related to discrimination and harassment, follow them! Bending the rules can open yourself up to additional claims of unfair treatment. If you don’t have a policy in place, or your policy doesn’t address the issues at hand, it’s time to adopt (or edit to include) such a policy.

An experienced labor and employment lawyer can help you create your policy. This policy will generally include concepts like…

  • Zero tolerance for any forms of harassment, discrimination, bullying, or violence
  • The definition of sexual and other types of harassment or discrimination and examples of inappropriate behavior
  • Rights of the employees to complain about such conduct and to whom such complaints should be made
  • Your investigative policy for all claims and prohibitions on retaliatory conduct
  • Disciplinary actions that may be taken

Once your policy is legally sound, distribute to all your employees and keep in an easy-to-access spot.


We’re on your side. Let us know how we can help protect your business.

When you’re dealing with a harassment or discrimination complaint or want to be prepared, JJH Law is here to help. Our employment litigation attorneys have years of experience guiding Portland businesses through a variety harassment and discrimination disputes.

Whether solved through negotiation, mediation, or in court, with JJH Law you’ll have knowledgeable and friendly attorneys on your side.

If you have questions about our services or are facing an labor and employment issue and need some advice, give us a call (503) 607-8460. Or contact us online.

Joseph Haddad

Joseph is a business lawyer and founder of JJH Law. He focuses on complex civil litigation with an emphasis on employment-related matters on behalf of employers and employees. He's also an avid card player, and in 2006 was ranked #118 in the world by CardPlayer Magazine.

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