Never Disclose to Coworkers or Management That You Are Filing an External Complaint
NO ONE AT WORK NEEDS TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE CONTACTING EEOC, OHR, ETC.!
NO ONE AT WORK NEEDS TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO FIND A LAWYER!
In previous posts, I’ve written that an investigator for the Office of Human Rights (OHR) informed me that I should file a complaint AFTER I left employment. She said that many employers often ESCALATED attacks against complaining employees, even though you would expect them to back off.
This is why you should never go around broadcasting that you are planning to vindicate your rights with the assistance of an outside investigatory agency or through the legal process. You will put an even larger bulls-eye on your back—or right in the middle of your forehead.
Once an employer feels they are in real legal jeopardy, they will often scramble to prove that they didn’t do anything wrong. They will attempt to create documentation that will support any negative employment actions, any heightened scrutiny and observation of the complaining employee, and any threats made to a complaining employee’s job security.
An employer will often decide that they must focus on getting retroactive documentation of a complaining employee. This means that, if an employer is lying about a complaining employee having a history of issues at work, they must go back and cover their butts by creating a written record of performance or personality problems that have never been documented. They were not documented because they did not happen.
So, new documentation will be created that uses some of the red flags words that were discussed in yesterday’s post. For instance, new documentation will make false accusations about a “consistent” problem or might say that a manager has “repeatedly” discussed an issue with a complaining employee or it might express “concern” about an issue raised about a complaining employee by “a number of staff.”
This type of documentation is then used by an employer to suggest that an employee wasn’t targeted for race, but was targeted for legitimate performance or personality issues. This defense is a pretext, discussed in many posts, that is used to hide a racially-motivated reason for targeting an employee. Your employer will never admit to this, so they must come up with real personnel actions that appear to be rooted in sound reasoning and that appear to adhere to corporate policies and procedures.
My employer made false accusations against me, WITHOUT knowing I was filing a complaint. They used red flag words in new documentation that contradicted my recent performance evaluation and contradicted compliments I’d been receiving from project managers and task leaders I’d been working with. They did this to retaliate against me for speaking truthfully about retaliation that a Black manager was subjected to. Now, imagine how much worse it would have been for me, had they known that I too was about to file a complaint!
I know it’s sometimes tempting to blurt out, “I’ll see you in court!” or “I’m contacting EEOC!” But, don’t do it. Not even out of respect or out of a sense that you have a duty to notify your employer. You don’t have a duty to do anything of the sort. EEOC or whatever agency or lawyer you’ve contacted will initiate the discussion. That’s all the advance notice your employer needs.
That way, once they’ve been informed there’s an investigation or legal action pending, anything they do to you will be under even more scrutiny than before you complained. Anything that happens to you will look even more like retaliation.
This doesn’t mean that your employer still won’t make attacks against you. It simply means that the context for their actions changes dramatically, no matter how they choose to defend themselves against accusations of wrongdoing. If an employee has filed a complaint and is suddenly suspended after the employer is notified they’ve filed a complaint that looks really suspicious no matter what the employer says to justify that employment action.
Do not notify your supervisor/manager, director, HR, an executive or anyone on staff. I don’t care how cool you are with the person or how much you trust them. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. The fact that someone is looking for a lawyer or contacting a government agency is very salacious and is often too juicy a nugget of gossip to keep quiet. A person may tell someone else that they feel will keep the secret and so on and so on and before you know it, a number of people, who didn’t intend for a manager or HR or an executive to find out, have allowed your business to permeate the workplace. You will be the topic of discussion at the water cooler!
Don’t trust anyone to keep your secret because you could be in for a world of pain much sooner than you anticipated. The next thing you know, you’re called into a meeting by someone in HR who’s telling you, “I hear you have a lawyer.” You don’t want to put yourself in that position and you shouldn’t tip your hand by allowing your employer to regroup and retarget you with a renewed sense of vigor.
If you want to get things off your chest, discuss an external investigation with family and friends, WHO DON’T WORK WITH YOU AND WHO DON’T KNOW ANY OF YOUR COWORKERS!
Don’t share these details with anyone at work and don’t keep any documentation of letters to lawyers, etc. in the office.
As I always suggest, continue to document everything at work, send important email to your personal email accounts (and keep hard copies at home), maintain a copy of organization charts, instructions/procedures, and always keep a current copy of the personnel manual, in case your employer decides to make retroactive changes to it—as was done to me.
If you make copies of important documents at work, be very discreet and don’t tell anyone what you are doing. This is especially true for corporate or government whistleblowers. Make a copy of an important document by putting the document you really want in the middle of some other file. Copy the whole thing and pull out the important piece later. If you do it this way and someone walks up to the copier, all they see is a regular document coming out and not necessarily the important paper or pages tucked in the middle. When you lift the document, the top pages make it look like a routine copy job as opposed to something you are not supposed to have your hands on!
Always remember that your employer may have tracking software that records your keystrokes. Hopefully, you have a home computer/lap top. If so, this is where you should do your writing and emailing. If at all possible, don’t do any of this at work.
If you must print an important electronic file, think of what other documents you can print along with it that will make it seem like you have a legitimate reason to print this group of files. Don’t just print one electronic file that can blow the lid off of what your employer is doing. Try your best to conceal your intentions.
Final tip...don't ask anyone at work if they know a lawyer you can use for a workplace complaint. You don't know what they will do with the knowledge that you are seeking representation. Remember, staff can end up with promotions, bonuses, etc. for looking out for corporate interests. That's all the motivation anyone needs to dime out a coworker, who should have been seen as a friend!!