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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



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Handling Internal Discrimination Complaints About Disciplinary Action

Despite your best efforts to implement a fair disciplinary policy and ensure that managers apply the policy consistently, employees may complain that they were treated unfairly for discriminatory reasons. For example, an employee may complain that he was punished more severely than other employees who broke similar rules because of his race.

Conducting a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of internal discrimination complaints about disciplinary action and taking appropriate corrective measures when necessary may resolve problems and prevent them from happening again. The following tips may be helpful in this process.

  • Ask the employee to:
    • Explain why he believes he was treated differently than other employees; and
    • Identify other employees who he believes were treated more favorably.
  • Meet with the manager(s) involved in those disciplinary decisions. Ask them to:
    • Explain the disciplinary actions imposed on the employee and others who committed similar infractions; and
    • Explain the reason(s) for these actions, including the reason(s) any employees may have been treated differently or better than other employees who committed similar infractions.
  • Determine whether the disciplinary policy was consistently applied.
    • If employees who committed similar infractions were not punished, or were punished less severely, determine if this response was justified. For example:
      • Was the infraction a repeat offense for the employee who complained about discrimination and a first offense for the employees who were treated more favorably?
      • Were the infractions similar? For example, did the employee who reported discrimination use vulgar language in front of customers, while the other employees used vulgar language only in front of co-workers?
      • Were there other circumstances that merited treating employees differently?
  • If you find evidence of discrimination, ensure that the discrimination stops immediately, correct any effects of the discrimination, and prevent it from happening again.
    • For example, if you determine that an employee was punished more severely than other employees because of his race, amend any relevant documents to reflect the appropriate disciplinary action, if any. Provide the employee any pay, seniority or other benefits he would have received if he had been treated properly.
    • Consider whether to discipline any managers involved in the discriminatory disciplinary action.
  • If you determine that the punishment was warranted, inform the employee.
    • It may be helpful to explain the steps you took to investigate the complaint, the results of the investigation, and the basis for your decision.
  • Consider documenting the results of the investigation and any corrective or preventative action taken.

See also:

Preventing Retaliation Tips

Manager Responsibilities - Treating Employees Consistently

Example - Justifying Inconsistent Treatment