Even weird employee complaints must be investigated

by on December 3, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

Even if you think an employee complaint is silly, even if it seems totally ridiculous, it pays to be patient with the person and check it out.

Case in point: A systems analyst at a medical research center somehow became convinced that somebody was tampering with her computer. The symptoms she reported were, frankly, weird: She claimed icons vanished from her desktop, she “lost control” of her mouse and keyboard, and the number 666 appeared on the calculator “thousands of times.”

Whoa. But give her supervisor credit. He put a lock on her office door, installed software to monitor the usage of her computer, reviewed data logs, and had an IT person check network activity related to the computer.

Conclusion: Nobody was accessing her machine.

Weeks later, the employee renewed her complaining. The boss had her hard drive reformatted, later got her a new computer, and had IT review more logs. He spent 150 hours investigating. Again, nothing.

When the employee later claimed somebody had broken into her office, a police investigation and further IT checks found no break-in and no computer foolery.

The payoff
The employee’s thanks? She filed an EEOC complaint of gender bias. Seven months later, she was laid off in a reduction in force, and sued for discrimination.

But here’s where the boss’s careful work paid off. The employee had absolutely no evidence of bias, the court said. In fact, the court said, the boss and others “went to extraordinary lengths to investigate her complaints.”

Cite: Wood v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, No. 09-4469, 3rd Cir., 9/23/10.

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