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Third-Party Complaints in the Workplace: Harassment & Discrimination


It is crucial for employees to feel safe, respected, and free from discriminatory practices in the work environment. Even more critical is the ability to report incidents of harassment/discrimination, empower employees to voice their concerns, and hold those responsible accountable. However, what happens when the complaint comes from an employee who has observed harassment or discrimination?

Third-Party Complaints of Workplace Harassment or Discrimination

Third-party complaints refer to incidents of harassment or discrimination reported by someone other than the directly targeted individual. These complaints could be made by many people in the workplace.

Examples of people who may make third-party complaints include:

  • Coworkers who have witnessed the harassing or discriminatory behavior
  • Bystanders who may be indirectly harmed by harassment or discriminatory behavior
  • A supervisor who becomes aware of the concerning conduct

Employers' Obligations to Investigate Third-Party Complaints

Creating policies that address workplace discrimination and harassment is essential for employers today. Not only is it good practice, but it is often required by law. A key component of these policies is the process for investigating complaints. Employers are encouraged, and sometimes mandated, to establish a clear plan for handling these sensitive situations.

In addition, many policies also require employers to accept and address third-party complaints, such as those made on behalf of an employee who may be too afraid to come forward themselves.

References to Third-Party Complaints in Policies

Policies in the workplace may not explicitly address third-party complaints, but they may include sections that indicate a third-party could complain about harassment or discrimination.

Examples of third-party complaint references in policies include:

  • A policy may reference indirect harassment or discrimination. This includes behaviors not directed at an individual, but still creates a toxic work environment or causes offense.
  • The definition of a complainant in a policy can be broad enough to include third-party complaints.
  • Employees may make third-party complaints under whistleblower provisions.

Overall, even when workplace policies don't directly address certain issues, it's important for employers to take all complaints seriously and investigate them with the same level of diligence.

Challenges Arising from the Lack of Target Participation

In some cases, the person targeted by the harassment or discrimination may be hesitant or unwilling to participate in the investigation process. This reluctance may stem from fear of retaliation, anxiety about potential judgement or ridicule, or a desire to avoid confrontation. Regardless of the reasons, this unwillingness can present considerable challenges in conducting a thorough investigation.

Regardless of the targeted individual’s desire to not participate, this does not mean that the investigation will not proceed. Employers are still required to investigate harassment and discrimination allegations.

Methods of gathering evidence without the targeted person’s participation:

  • Documentary evidence: Information that relates to the harassment or discrimination incident may be gathered as part of the investigation. This could include emails, meeting notes, text messages, meetings recordings, and much more.
  • Witnesses: As part of the investigation, other employees with first-hand knowledge of the incidents may be interviewed.

After using these and additional methods of gathering evidence regarding the third-party complaint, the investigator may be able to form positive findings of fact. These findings are important for reaching a just and fair outcome.

Contact Us for Legal Help

No one should have to endure or witness discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Fortunately, there are options available for those who have experienced such situations.

At Shellist Lazarz Slobin, our employee attorneys are dedicated to investigating our client’s cases. Trust that our team will work tirelessly to protect and fight for your rights in the workplace.

Don't suffer in silence - get in touch with us to discuss your options and let us help you find a solution. Call our firm today at (713) 352-3433 or reach out to us online.