Written by attorney Arkady Igor Itkin

How to complain about harassment, discrimination and retaliation to your management the right way

You feel that you are being driven out out of your workplace by your immediately supervisor or one of the managers. You suspect that the reason for scrutinizing your work or issuing negative performance reviews or for putting you on a performance improvement plan is being discriminatory or retaliatory and you have decided to complain about this possible discrimination and harassment. Here are a few pointers to make sure that you complain about these possible violations the right way:

  1. Complain in writing. You would be surprised how often managers deny having phone or even in-person convesations with their subordinates about their harassment and discrimination complaints. In part it's because they sometimes truly don't remember the exact substance of the conversation, and in part because, being caught up between the complainant and their own superiors, they don't want to remember and take the risk of addressing complaints, which often requires stirring things up. Complaining in writing, and ideally with proof of transmission, such as by e-mail or fax, ensures that the employer cannot deny your complaints and their knowledge of your complaints later.

  2. Complain to more than just one superior. This is especially if you work at a large organization. Make sure that you cc your complaint to the human resources manager, your immediately supervisor (even if he is the one you are complaining about), and a number of higher up managers who can and have the authority to look into you complaints and remedy the situation.

  3. Make your complaint brief, specific and to the point. Ideally, you want the reader of your complaint to know what the purpose of the letter or the e-mail that landed on his/her desk is within one minute or less. There is absolutely no reason to write a 5 page letter, discussing your history of employment with the company, your accomplishments and other matters that have absolutely no relevance to your complaints at issue. Have a subject line in your letter, specifically stating: "Harassment / Discrimination Complaint". Then, describe specifically what your issues are. Avoid using such words as "abusive", "hostile", "inappropriate" and other generic adjectives that don't really say anything to the manager who reads them. Instead, specifically describe the actions and the behaviors, and also quote the words, if any, that you find to be discriminatory/retaliatory. It is perfectly appropriate to ask for your complaints to be investigated.

  4. Don't exaggerate. There is no reason to suggest in your complaints that your co-workers conspired against you to drive you out of the company, or that your managers are just out to get you, etc... unless you have direct evidence (i.e. you saw a written document or overheard a conversatison) that suggests exactly that.

  5. Maintain a civil tone at all times. When you complain, you are asking the person who reads the complaint to help you. You should write your complaint in such a way that would make the reader want to help you. There is no reason to critize the company, the manager, bring up older problems that have no bearing on your current issues, or accuse the managers who you expect to get help from, as this is counterproductive to motivating them to look into and address your complaints. Besides, being rude or confrontational when complaining (whether orally or in writing) gives your employer an independent and legitimate reason to discipline and even terminate your employment.

Complaining about your managers is rarely fun, but by following the above simple five pointers, you will likely do it the right way, increasing the chances of your complaints to be addressed and the retaliation and discrimination you are complaining of to be remedied.

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