How to Handle Discrimination and Harassment Complaints In Your Workplace

As an employer, to promote a safe and fair work environment, there are two main factors that you should look out for:

  1. Discrimination
  2. Harassment

Accusations of discrimination and workplace harassment, as well as bullying complaints, can ruin employee morale and put workplace safety at risk, give your company a negative reputation, and, of course, result in litigation.

However, how you handle these types of complaints determines the impact they have and the severity of the consequences on your business. Keep reading to learn how to handle workplace discrimination, harassment, and bullying complaints to keep your employees safe.

Bully Zero reports that up to 60% of Australian employees will experience workplace bullying in their careers. A harassment policy that offers general protections to your employees and sets up an official complaint process can help guide your response to a formal complaint or a workplace dispute.

What Is Bullying?

The Fair Work Ombudsman defines bullying at work as: “when a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers.” Harassment and discrimination are similar to bullying, but they all result in one employee hurting or humiliating another employee in some way.

There are several examples of bullying in the workplace, including:

  • Aggressive behaviour towards others
  • Teasing
  • Peer pressure to do something uncomfortable or inappropriate
  • Excluding someone from work-related activities
  • Sexual harassment and unwanted advances
  • Treating someone differently due to their sex, gender, race, or religion

If you don’t handle workplace bullying complaints well, it negatively impacts your overall work culture. Moreover, it negatively impacts your company, which may turn off a prospective employee.

At best, you lose quality talent if employees involved in either side of the bullying, harassment, or discrimination complaint leave your company. At worst, you may put your business at risk of external intervention from authorities or the government. This can lead to severe lawsuits that may cost you significant money.

So, as an employer, how can you handle discrimination and alleged harassment complaints within your organisation? Let’s find out.

How to Handle Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying Complaints in the Workplace

The consequences of bullying complaints in the workplace can be dire. However, if you handle complaints effectively, you can minimise the impact it has on your employees and the company as a whole.

Here are key ways to handle workplace discrimination, harassment, and bullying complaints.

Don’t Be In Denial

As an employer, it may be difficult to believe that severe circumstances of bullying and harassment are happening right under your nose. But just because you haven’t noticed these events occur doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to any accusations. Keep in mind that there are many types of unlawful discrimination, including age discrimination, race discrimination, and disability discrimination.

Keep an open mind and understand that although there are two sides to every story, you must conduct a workplace investigation before making any decisions. Be sure to investigate every workplace bullying complaint or harassment complaint brought to you and only draw conclusions once your investigation is complete.

Be Empathetic

In addition to not being in denial, it’s essential to acknowledge the employee making the complaint entirely.

It isn’t easy for employees to bring a discrimination or workplace harassment complaint to their superiors – they often fear repercussions such as warnings or termination for such accusations. Therefore, when an employee approaches you with a complaint, it’s essential to first and foremost be understanding and let them present you with their whole truth.

If the employee is bringing a formal complaint to your attention and senses that you may not be taking it seriously, they may be inclined to escalate it by taking it to the authorities or court.

Conduct a Thorough Investigation

As mentioned, you must investigate every complaint brought to your attention, no matter how minor it may seem.

Your first step is to converse with the person or people bringing the allegations. It’s best to have this face-to-face conversation to get full details of the situation. Make sure to take notes during the interview to document what the complainer says.

From there, you should also interview the employee that the complaint is against (the alleged harasser) to get their point of view. If any witnesses were involved in the incident, interview each of them individually.

Once the interview process is done, evaluate what all parties said to find corroboration and contradictions in their statements. Compare what each party said with other evidence, such as documented communications.


The best way to handle workplace discrimination, harassment, and bullying complaints is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Your goal should be to promote a safe and comfortable environment for all your employees. Therefore, you must reevaluate your work culture and regularly check in on your employees.

Whether you do this through one-to-one meetings, regular anonymous surveys, or a combination of the two methods, you need to create an open line of communication with all of them to try to catch any potential discomfort or bullying before the situation escalates.

Handling Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying Complaints in the Workplace: How HRonHand Can Help

Handling discrimination, harassment, and bullying complaints in the workplace is complex but necessary to keep your employees safe and prevent your business from losing time and money through litigation or other consequences.

To help you out, HRonHand has developed a Workplace Bullying & Harassment Checklist to help you identify risk factors, which may help prevent these events before they happen.

The checklist includes:

  • Potential risk factors which could lead to bullying and harassment
  • Management styles
  • Potentially harmful workplace relationships and communication
  • Signs of bullying to watch out for
  • Disciplinary action and the steps you can take to resolve these if they occur

Purchase and download our checklist today, and find out how to handle discrimination and harassment workplace complaints before it costs your workplace time and money.

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