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How to deal with a workplace sexual harassment complaint

| Oct 12, 2020 | employment law

When the #Metoo movement swept the United States in 2017, everyone truly realized that sexual harassment still is far too common in the workplace. If you are a CEO, manager or human resources representative, you want to do all you can to root out any sexual harassment in your company. Part of that will include knowing how to handle a sexual harassment complaint when it occurs.

Here are some steps to follow to ensure you respond properly to sexual harassment claims:

  1. Take harassment claims seriously. This means that whether a complaint was made formally or informally, make sure you don’t dismiss it. Rather, follow through to determine how valid the complaint is.
  2. Treat the employee who complained with respect. Recognize that it takes courage to make a sexual harassment complaint. According to a 2018 study, 39% of employees don’t report sexual harassment because they don’t feel management will handle the situation properly. So, thank the employee for bringing the situation to your attention, tell the employee how you will be handling the complaint and assure them you will handle the compliant with confidentiality.
  3. Let upper management know about the complaint and seek an employment law attorney to ensure you deal with the complaint correctly.
  4. Begin an investigation. Interview the employee who complained, taking careful notes to document what they say happened. Let the employee know that if they feel they face retaliation for making the complaint, you want to know immediately. You’ll also need to interview the accused harasser to get their side of the story, as well as any witnesses.
  5. Review your investigation evidence with upper management and your legal counsel. You want to get their perspective on if the harassment occurred and how to resolve the complaint.
  6. If you’ve determined the harassment occurred, inform the parties involved what the punishment will be and make any needed workplace changes to stop the harassment (perhaps, assigning the employee to another supervisor or moving the employee’s desk away from the harasser and limiting their contact).
  7. Take time to follow-up after you’ve resolved the complaint. You want to ensure no further harassment is occurring and document your findings.

Showing that your workplace takes sexual harassment seriously is important. You want employees to feel comfortable in the workplace and avoid any potential legal problems because of harassment or retaliation. That’s why having a process to handle harassment claims and following it are so necessary.