Best Middlesex County Lawyer

Anonymous Complaints

So you’re an employer and you’ve received an anonymous complaint. It could be from a member of the public, or from one of your employees speaking anonymously about a coworker. It may give you little to go on, and provide no information on how to follow up for more information or to even resolve the issue. What are you supposed to do with that?

In a workplace where tensions run high and certain competitive types might even stoop to backstabbing to get that next promotion or raise, you want to tread carefully when taking action on an anonymous complaint. You should also consider why the complaint was anonymous in the first place. Could the writer have reason to fear for his or her position or standing if they had been identified, or does it seem like more of a case of petty mudslinging? Here’s a look at one NJ case that dealt very closely with this type of issue.

In Lakewood Township, a public works staffer, Paul Williams, had been employed for nine years when the Township Manager received an anonymous letter stating that Williams was plagued with mental issues and made multiple employees fear for their safety. There was reference to some specific episodes, but overall noted that it was a regular issue featuring “daily tirades and outbursts”. In follow up to the letter, the Township did nothing for the first eight months, and then without warning informed Williams that he had to complete “psychological fitness-for-duty examination” or risk losing his position.

In response, Williams refused and stated that the exam was not related to his position, and broke the stipulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He was terminated from the department, and set a formal appeal to the Civil Service Commission. Over a series of appeals and reversals, it was determined in turn that Williams was not exceedingly confrontational, but by not agreeing to take the exam was insubordination. He was ordered to take the exam before being reinstated, and the ADA claims were not addressed. Finally, the court decided that the test was not required because of a failure in his work, but only because of the complaints from the letter.

Because the initial accusation came only from an anonymous letter that could not be interviewed or asked for further information or details about the supposed misbehavior, it was deemed insufficient under the EEOC and ADA as reasoning for the test to be mandated.

Instead of waiting to take action on the letter for eight months, the township ought to have taken immediate action—or not at all. They should have taken steps to investigate both into William’s behavior and into who could have lodged the complaint, and then through the fruits of their search made a decision to require the test or not.

Anonymous complaints are a tricky business, and should be handled delicately to ensure the smooth functioning of your workplace and to keep you out of any suits between employees and the company. If you’re facing a difficult situation like this one, you need accomplished legal advice. For a free consultation with me, David Kaplan, call today at 973-426-0021 to learn more about your options.

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