Before you take any employment actions regarding a member of your leadership team, you should meet with your human resources team or the company's legal counsel. Whether an employee files an informal or a formal complaint about his boss, it calls for a closer look at whether you have effective leadership in place. Supervisors represent company management, and as such, are responsible for carrying out the mission and intent of company policies.


As a small business owner or HR department leader, you must first understand the basis of the complaint against the supervisor or manager. If an employee has complained to you directly or via another workplace channel — such as an anonymous hotline that many employers use for employee relations matters -— review the complaint carefully. Ensure that the employee's complaint has a legitimate basis, and not a mere gripe about a manager who didn't say "good morning." On the other hand, don't dismiss the validity of an employee's complaint simply because your company has always supported management whenever there is employee-supervisor conflict.


Determine whether the complaint warrants an investigation. Employers are strongly advised to investigate claims if they involve potential violations of federal or state employment laws or safety regulations. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers should investigate employee complaints immediately. In some cases, the EEOC has determined that an employer's failure to investigate an employee's complaint about his boss is an act of retaliation against the employee.


One reason to meet with legal counsel prior to your HR meeting is to discuss potential liability for allegations of supervisors' wrongdoing. Also according to the EEOC, employers can be held liable for their supervisors' actions, particularly where nondiscrimination and anti-harassment laws are concerned. In its guidance for small-business employers, the EEOC states: "An employer is always responsible for harassment by a supervisor that culminated in a tangible employment action." EEOC considers a change in pay or work directives, or firing or not hiring someone as a tangible employment action.


Obtain the supervisor's employment file, review her past performance and previous guidance or counseling on similar or related matters. If you're unclear about her previous performance, confer with her manager about her work record. Importantly, determine whether she's completed mandatory leadership training — especially training on fair employment practices — if the complaint contains allegations of discrimination or harassment. The EEOC advocates training as an effective method to preventing workplace conflict and some jurisdictions require that employers provide training concerning equal employment policies and sexual harassment.


Decide the meeting's purpose. If you're considering punitive action, such as termination, demotion or another form of discipline, be prepared to discuss those options during the HR meeting. Also, if you're looking for guidance from legal counsel on next steps, provide your lawyer with documents and information before the meeting so she has a chance to review the matter before lending her expertise.