California law makes it clear that as an employee, you have a right to be treated fairly by your employer. In order to help preserve your employment rights, and regardless of whether you intend to file suit or not, the first step is to bring any issue to the attention of your employer and the Human Resource Department.
Step One: Make Your Complaint.
As an employee, you might find it difficult to bring a complaint to your employer since often times an employee with a pressing issue may feel that complaining will subject them to additional discrimination, retaliation, or unfair treatment. At times like this, it is imperative to gather the courage to bring your concerns to the employer’s attention. The more important an issue, the harder it will seem to bring the matter to light, which is all the more reason to do so. A well run Human Resource Department, or any manager or supervisor worth their salt, with be willing to listen and investigate the matter in order to find a cure.
A complaint can be written (preferable) or oral, but regardless of the form in which it is made, it needs to be made to the employer to put them on notice of the matter that needs to be investigated and resolved. A complaint to the employer should include:
1. A summary of what occurred (i.e. what occurred, when, who was involved, and any potential witnesses);
2. Described with sufficient specificity the alleged wrongful conduct (i.e. employee believed they were subjected to discrimination, retaliation, harassment, or wrongful termination); and
3. The basis the employee believed was the underlying reason for the wrongful conduct (i.e. was the employee’s age, race, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or good-faith complaint of illegal activity as the basis for the employer’s wrongful conduct)
Emails are a fantastic way to keep everyone on the same page as to what the matter is, and how you want it handled. Do this in an on-going organic email chain. Also, be sure that emails regarding your complaint, and any follow-up, are all directed to the Human Resource Department, your manager or supervisor, and the highest ranking executive. It might require some searching, but all managers, supervisors, human resource specialists, and executives have company email addresses.
Step Two: The Investigation Process.
Once you issue your complaint to the employer and their Human Resource Department, you will find yourself being asked follow-up questions, and you should do what you can to cooperate with their investigation. Always be sure to provide truthful information to assist the investigator, such as names, dates, statements, and any witnesses that may help corroborate the events.
Step Three: Creating and Maintaining a Record.
Throughout the investigation process, you may find that other people have come out of the woodwork with helpful information. You may also find that the employer may be willing to cure the problem right away to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Other times, some employers fail to follow the letter of the law, shirk their responsibility in conducting a proper investigation, and try sweeping a matter under the rug. Its is at this pint where your record will help save you from the “he said, she said” scenario, and in the process, preserving your employment rights.
Your record should consist of:
1. A copy of the written complaint. If you made an oral complaint, keep a ledger or log of who you told, what your complaint was, what the basis for the compliant was such as gender, race, disability, etc., and when you complained or follow-up on a complaint.
2. Copies of all emails. Its helpful to print-out any and keep hard copies of any and all emails.
3. Names and contact information of witnesses, along with any helpful information they may have.
4. A personal ledger in chorological order from the first day of the misconduct in the workplace. Keep events as they happen in order with detailed information such as names, dates, statements, and important events. It is also helpful to include how each event affected you. For some employment matters, an employee may need to seek and medical or psychological treatment as a result of the on-going workplace issue. If this is the case, be sure to include treatment information in your personal journal or log. Its also a good idea to write the words “confidential work product” on the top of each page of your log, especially if you feel as though you may need to consult and possibly retain an attorney to assist you in your matter.
Above all else, keep your record safe, keep it secure. Make a binder or folder for all your information. This is your best proof of any alleged wrong doing by an employer, and the best way to protect your employment rights.