By Scott Huffstetler

Most employer discrimination, harassment or retaliation policies contain a clause that requires an employee who believes that he is being discriminated, harassed or retaliated against to report the incident to his immediate supervisor and/or an upper level manager, including a human resource representative. But do these managers and supervisors know what to do when an employee complains to them about such conduct?

Most employers would answer yes, but they may have a false sense of security. The truth is in real-world working relationships, what a supervisor should do versus what he actually does may get muddied by his day to day interactions with his fellow employees that are also subordinates.

Consider this scenario. What would you do if an employee came to you, a manager or supervisor, and complained about discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace, but asked you to not tell anyone else? This scenario occurs particularly where an employee does not want to lodge a formal complaint or investigation, but does at least want to tell someone about the conduct to either protect himself if the conduct escalates, or to get it off of his chest. Unfortunately, some of your managers and supervisors may answer that they would not report the conduct to the appropriate officials because of relationships of trust that develop in the course of being an employee’s manager. However, understandable this reaction may be, it is not the correct answer and could have very serous consequences for the employer.

A manager’s failure to report this activity could be viewed as inaction on the part of the employer, and could cost the employer dearly. An employer’s inaction in response to a complaint of discrimination, harassment or retaliation could form the basis for an award of punitive damages in a Title VII lawsuit. Thus, managers and supervisors should be reminded of their important role as intermediaries for the company to receive complaints of unlawful conduct and their duty in assisting employers in taking prompt remedial action in response to such complaints.