Sexual harassment can be a complicated and expensive problem for your company to tackle. Especially when someone with significant responsibilities at the company or a long tenure with the business get excused, the immediate response of some individuals will be to try to cover up the problem.
People working in human resources or management might try to dismiss the complaint instead of properly investigating it. While that may seem like the fastest way to resolve the issue, in reality, ignoring credible complaints put your company at risk of a lawsuit because you have an obligation to provide your employees with a work environment free of both discrimination and harassment.
What should you do if an employee reports alleged harassment on the job?
Make sure you provide a safe way for employees to report their concerns
The first step in properly handling sexual harassment allegations is to allow employees to voice their concerns. Having human resources team members easily accessible to staff is important, as is having an alternate method of reporting in circumstances where someone involved in the reporting hierarchy is accused of misconduct.
When an employee has an issue, it’s important that you always treat it as a credible complaint. Take down as much information as that employee is able to provide and then take whatever steps are necessary to validate or corroborate those claims. Talking to other witnesses, reviewing company records and even talking to the person accused without getting in to too many details can be a way to start an investigation.
There should be documentation for every step of the investigation so that the claimant can see that you took all necessary actions. Finally, if you do verify that someone engaged in inappropriate conduct, there need to be appropriate consequences. Termination is sometimes a necessary solution, but sensitivity training and other options may also be available, depending on the circumstances.
If your company needs to set a sexual harassment policy or defend against claims that it mishandled harassment allegations, it’s best to talk with an employment law attorney before you make any major decisions.