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What Employers Should Know About Workplace Harassment Investigations

What Employers Should Know About Workplace Harassment Investigations

Harassment can happen anywhere. It can happen while you’re walking down the street or attending a social event. It can be explicit or discreet. It can also happen for several reasons.

But one thing remains constant—harassment is never justifiable. And it shouldn’t be tolerated under any circumstances.

When an employee complains about workplace harassment, the employer has the duty to investigate the matter properly, or significant fines, penalties, or termination pay could be applied. Here’s a quick guide on how to address these matters.

How to Investigate Workplace Harassment

Do It as Soon as Possible

The moment an employee files a complaint or raises the issue of workplace harassment, an employer should investigate it. Prior to completing an investigation, you should take whatever steps possible to separate the claimed harasser from the claimed victim.

It’s understandable if it takes you some time to complete an investigation, especially if the company has a lot of work to do at the moment. But you should begin to address it within a few days or weeks, not months.  

Investigating workplace harassment as soon as possible helps you solve the issue easier. The incident would be clearer in the minds of the involved parties. They could be able to give you more specific details about the incident which could help with the investigation. Investigating as soon as possible also helps to protect everyone involved and prevent further potential harassment from occurring. 

Interview Involved Parties Thoroughly

When workplace harassment issues arise, your main duties as an employer are to protect everyone and interview all the parties involved in the incident.  Other important employer goals should be to ensure the process is fair, especially because someone may need to have their employment terminated.

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The people you need to interview include the complainant, the alleged harasser, and some witnesses (if there are any). You should ask them specific questions about the incident that could help you decide how to settle the issue.

Common questions include the what, why, when, where, and how of the event. If the involved parties could provide supporting documents, ask them to do so. Then, take note of all the information provided to you as it could help you decide later on.

Keep it Confidential

Even though you’ll be asking questions to some witnesses as well, make sure you keep the whole matter as confidential as possible. Talk to the parties discreetly.

Try to limit the investigation only to the parties directly involved with the issue. Also, ask them to keep it confidential among themselves as much as possible.

The only time you can forego this tip is when you’ll have to protect other employees from the alleged harasser or when it’s necessary for the investigation.

Uphold Objectivity

Workplace harassment isn’t something you should take lightly. That’s why it’s important to be objective throughout the whole investigation process.

If the alleged harasser is a direct supervisor of the complainant, they should not be allowed to conduct the investigation and should have limited involvement. A third party like a human resources manager or a higher supervisor should be asked to investigate the matter.

It’s sometimes better to have two people investigating the issue to make sure the decision would be free from personal bias.

In most cases, hiring outside help could make the investigation easier, and help protect your rights as an employer. Employment lawyers could investigate the matter to uphold impartiality and/or give you legal advice. You can ask them for help or advice to make sure you’re addressing the issue properly.

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Relay Conclusion to the Involved Parties

Once the investigation is finished, usually it is a good idea to write up an investigation report with a conclusion.  

After you arrive at a conclusion, you need to be careful how you relay that conclusion to the alleged harasser and the complainant. Generally, it is not a good idea to provide the parties with more information than they need in the context of the conclusion.  For example, if the complaint was found to be substantiated, the complainant may not need the full details of the investigation, they may only need to know what you are doing to address the problem.

Harassment in the Workplace

It takes courage for harassment victims to come forward about the matter. That’s why you, as an employer, should take instances like this seriously—even if you have concerns the claims may not be truthful.

Not carrying out your obligations may lead to employment lawsuits. And this could also damage your company’s reputation. That’s why it’s important to address workplace harassment issues immediately to avoid further problems.

To recap, here’s how you should investigate workplace harassment as an employer:

  • Conduct the investigation as soon as possible.
  • Interview the complainant, the alleged harasser, and some witnesses thoroughly to get a clear picture of the incident.
  • Keep the matter confidential and make sure to talk with the involved parties discreetly.
  • Make sure that you, as an investigator, stay objective about the matter. Ask for help from an employment lawyer if necessary.
  • Relay your conclusion to the parties involved and make sure they understand what it means for them.

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