In an article here on our blog earlier this year, we wrote about how important it is for every employer to outline a sexual harassment policy in their employee handbook and have an established protocol to follow to address sexual harassment complaints.
There are also some do’s and do not’s to follow when handling sexual harassment investigations in your workplace. You’ll want to be careful how you proceed with such investigations to ensure that they protect the rights of all parties involved.
What to do when an employee reports sexual harassment
It’s best if you respond proactively when an employee reports harassment. Your response should convey to your worker that you take their allegations seriously and plan to launch an immediate investigation.
Many employees start by reporting the alleged sexual harassment to human resources (HR) verbally instead of via email. You should ask your employee to provide a statement in writing as to what occurred. You may be able to use this as evidence in a legal case should any party involved file one.
You should document any discussions about harassment complaints that you have with your employees. All descriptions should take on a neutral or non-accusatory tone. You mustn’t label any behaviors and steer clear of offering any opinions or inferences. You should only stick to the facts.
You’ll need to take exhaustive efforts to corroborate or disprove your employee’s sexual harassment allegations. You should protect the confidentiality of the affected parties as much as possible. You should keep both the accuser and accused informed of all decisions and actions you take regarding the harassment complaint throughout the whole process.
Why you must proceed cautiously with sexual harassment allegations
One of the biggest mistakes employers make is responding less aggressively or too harshly to sexual harassment claims. Any response you take must be well-measured and balance the interests of everyone involved. You may find it helpful to consult with an attorney to guide you on how to strike that ideal balance in tone.