Harassment in the workplace is always difficult, but the situation becomes even more fraught when a supervisor is the perpetrator of the harassment. Writing a letter of complaint against a supervisor can be a challenge for an employee, but provided that the employee has legitimate harassment concerns that are protected by law and has documented these instances of harassment, the most difficult part of the process is knowing where to address the letter of complaint.
Determine whether harassment is actually taking place. Simple teasing, occasional offhand comments or one-time, isolated incidents do not, under federal law, constitute harassment, which makes these situations difficult to police in the workplace. Federal law mandates that the objectionable behavior must be severe enough or of a frequency that a hostile work environment is created or that a "tangible employment action" results. A tangible employment action can be hiring, promotion, undesirable reassignment, firing, demotion or a significant change in benefits, compensation and/or work assignments.
Identify the type of harassment that is occurring. Federal law describes and prohibits certain types of harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employee harassment based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees age 40 or older against harassment on the basis of age. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids harassment based on an employee's disability. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits harassment of an employee due to genetic information.
Gather supporting information related to the harassment. Your supporting information should include copies of emails or other correspondence that include harassing or objectionable content and documentation detailing incidents of harassment that include the dates, times, locations of and any witnesses to the incidents.
Write a letter that details the facts of the harassment and the federal law the harassment violates. Do not include extraneous information, resort to name calling, or otherwise confuse or dilute the issue of the harassment by adding information that is not directly related to the incidents of harassment.
Attach to the letter of complaint copies of any correspondence that corroborate the harassment. Keep the originals in a safe place.
Follow any steps your employer defines for reporting complaints. If your employer has a grievance procedure or other procedure for reporting complaints, follow those steps to file your complaint. However, if the grievance procedure requires you to report complaints to your supervisor, address the complaint to human resources or to another supervisor in your organization. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that employers designate at least one person in authority outside an employee's chain of command to take complaints in order to assure the impartial handling of complaints.
File a complaint with the EEOC in the event that your complaint is not handled by your employer. The EEOC recommends giving management the opportunity to "promptly to investigate the complaint and undertake corrective action" before filing a charge, but advises that "the deadline for filing an EEOC charge is either 180 or 300 days after the last date of alleged harassment, depending on the state in which the allegation arises."
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Filing a Charge
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Prohibited Practices
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
A writer and information professional, J.E. Cornett has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Lincoln Memorial University and a Master of Science in library and information science from the University of Kentucky. A former newspaper reporter with two Kentucky Press Association awards to her credit, she has over 10 years experience writing professionally.