When an employee complains that he or she is experiencing sexual harassment of any type, the employer has a legal, ethical, and employee relations obligation to thoroughly investigate the charges. Find out how.
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- Before a complaint is filed, make sure you have posted and informed all employees of your organizations policy relative to sexual harassment. It wont be tolerated; it will be investigated.
- Assign a staff member to own the complaint. This individual should be knowledgeable about the organization, the people in the organization, and the history of the organization.
- Map out a plan that covers the important people and situations to investigate in the initial complaint. Basically, plan the investigation, based on current knowledge.
- Talk with the employee who is complaining. Guarantee to the employee that he or she is safe from retaliation and took appropriate action in reporting the incident or general situation.
- Inform the employee that you need to know immediately about any retaliation, purported retaliation, or ongoing harassment the employee experiences.
- Ask the employee to tell you the whole story in his or her own words. Listen; take notes. Write down relevant facts such as dates, times, situations, witnesses, and anything else that seems relevant.
- Tell the person accused that a complaint has been filed, and that no acts of retaliation or unethical actions will be tolerated. Ask the person to be patient while you conduct a thorough investigation.
- Assure the person accused that a fair and just investigation will be conducted on their behalf as well as that of the accuser.
- Interview any potential witnesses in the same manner. Interview any potential witnesses in the same manner. Ask open-ended questions and seek facts that support or disprove the employees allegations.
- Interview the person who is accused of sexual harassment. Apply the same listening and respectful approach you accorded the person who filed the complaint and the other witnesses.
- Take all the information you received and attempt to reach a decision. Make the best decision that you can with the information you have. Consult with other HR colleagues to do the right thing.
- Make decisions about whether sexual harassment occurred. Provide the appropriate discipline to the appropriate people, based on your findings. Make work or assignment setting adjustments if necessary.
- Recognize that you are not perfect, no situation can be perfectly investigated. Even when harassment may have occurred, there may be no facts or witnesses that corroborate a complainants statement.
- Assure that no further incidents occur by following up, and documenting your follow-up. with the employee who made the original harassment claim. Keep documentation separate from the personnel file.
- Afford the employee, who may have been wrongly accused, the same courtesy of follow-up and documentation. Adjust working situations fairly where necessary for the comfort and productivity of all.
- Legally, the employer will want to avoid any possibility or appearance that the employees complaint was disregarded. Respond immediately.
- Ethically, the employer will not want to allow such behavior to exist in their workplace.
- The trust, morale, and fair treatment of employees is at stake. An employers actions send powerful signals about what another employee can expect in similar circumstances.
- You may want to consider reposting and reiterating your sexual harassment policies across your whole work place. Let the circumstances guide your judgment.
- In all cases, make sure you make and keep complete and accurate documentation. Employees who are unhappy with the results of your investigation may take additional legal action.