Your workplace expectations and how they fall flat

A conversation about sensitive topics, such as race, ageism, misogyny and other social issues, is inherently risky. Social media users are always aware they’re living in a digital world. They wonder: Should we report…

Your workplace expectations and how they fall flat

A conversation about sensitive topics, such as race, ageism, misogyny and other social issues, is inherently risky. Social media users are always aware they’re living in a digital world. They wonder: Should we report this post about a colleague? Should we report this post about a colleague? Should we comment on this post about this colleague? I’m trying to find a safe way to navigate those ethical minefields, but these conversations have not changed.

In contrast, document-based complaints allow people to submit and follow up directly with the people in the complaints. They open the door to potential investigation — a decision both executive- and employee-led — and resolve to follow up on a complaint in just one fell swoop. As evidence for paper complaints, you typically present a key piece of information to the company, which is either passed on directly to management or gathered by another employee through a delegated feedback process.

This approach makes sense. While complaints are legal and workable, they can also be difficult to balance with business needs. When Doobie Brothers singer-songwriter T. Graham Brown lost his job as a restaurant-owner in Seattle in December 2017, he took legal action. Brown allegedly told a reporter from The Seattle Times that he was the victim of ageism, noting that his colleagues had been complaining for years. Brown also, according to The Times, claimed he was fired due to racism.

Brown filed a lawsuit, alleging age discrimination. A Seattle judge dismissed the case in April, noting that Brown failed to provide evidence that the restaurant manager he was referring to was any different from other managers in that he hadn’t harassed Brown or made him feel uncomfortable. “The only concern that the plaintiff identified [in the complaint] was a white manager making ‘negative remarks’ about minority customers, Brown said. “The issue of ‘one black employee or a manager making some comments’ was not included in the claim, and Brown’s comments about the fact that one of his employees is black did not constitute discriminatory harassment.”

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