Are Anonymous Complaints Really Anonymous?

The question of just how anonymous some companies’ complaint procedures are is being raised by an interesting case recently filed in a New York federal court. 

According to an article in the New York Daily News, Gerard Giraldo sent what he believed to be an anonymous e-mail complaint about sexual harassment and racial discrimination by managers of his employer, The Change Group.  The same day Mr. Giraldo sent the e-mail, he received an e-mail response entitled: “Game Over.”  The e-mail went on to say, “Gerard . . . IP traced,” referring to the Internet Protocol (IP) address that is unique to a particular computer.  Three weeks later, Mr. Giraldo’s employment was terminated, allegedly in retaliation for his e-mail complaint.
You can read more about this case at: 

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/gay-employee-told-game-reporting-discrimination-suit-article-1.1587083

Although these are merely unproven accusations at this point, it raises an interesting question none-the-less.  Are anonymous complaints really anonymous?  As employers become more and more savvy with their use of technology and more and more business is being conducted on employer-provided hardware and software, employees should be cognizant of the risks posed by their use of technology.  Whether it is your credit card information at Target or an “anonymous” e-mail sent to human resources, there is no guarantee that electronic data is actually secure and private.   

Taking this another step further, employees should consider the difficulties that might be created if, like Mr. Giraldo alleges, they lose their job in retaliation for making an “anonymous” complaint.  For example, if the complaint does not identify you as the person responsible for reporting the workplace misconduct, how will you be able to prove the employer knew it was you who made the complaint?  In Mr. Giraldo’s case, the “Game Over” e-mail might prove to be a key piece of evidence but, without that, just think of how easy it would be for the employer to claim ignorance with respect to you being the person who made the complaint.

So would an employee be better off putting their name on the complaint?  That’s a difficult question to answer as Mr. Giraldo’s situation demonstrates.