Denver, CO- Employers get nervous when they receive a complaint of sexual harassment, which is understandable. Such a compliant requires an investigation from the employer and possibly federal agencies. Such behavior raises tensions among employees and makes the workplace hostile. If the allegations are not handled properly, an employer may be subjected to a costly lawsuit which in the worst case put them out of business.
An employer can minimize the risk of costly lawsuits and if they have a sound strategy for handling complaints when they arise and address the complaints immediately.
Take the allegations seriously. The most common mistake employers make is to not take the complaints seriously. They fail to investigate the allegations because they don’t believe it could be happening or that the complaining employee is just being too sensitive, one of the many misconceptions about sexual harassment. Failing to take allegations seriously exposes the company to liability and forces an employee to seek help from a sexual harassment attorney or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Speak with both parties. First interview the complainant to determine what their concerns and speak with the alleged harasser. Get as many details as possible: what was said or done, when and where the incident occurred and who else was present. With this information you will be able to corroborate the complaints by checking work schedules, time cards and attendance to meetings or training sessions to see if the parties were actually where they said they were. If there was another party present, speak with them to corroborate what the others have said.
Investigate the allegations. Even if an employer thinks a complaint is frivolous they should investigate the complaints. If an employer is not confident that they can carry out a thorough investigation, they can hire an outside party such as a sexual harassment attorney or private investigator to do it for them. An outside investigator can be especially helpful if the more than one person complains of the alleged harasser is in high position such as president or CEO.
Don’t punish the complainant. Sometimes employers get angry when an employee files a formal complaint. They may be tempted to punish the complainer by cutting their hours, denying them promotions, raises or vacation days. Some employers fire employees for speaking up about sexual harassment. All of these actions are called retaliation and are illegal. Even if the sexual harassment allegations turn out to be false, an employer can be sued for taking action against the complainer.
Keep the allegations confidential. Never tell other employees about the allegations since this can create greater tension among employees. Employees can take sides and may be hostile towards either the complainant or the accused employee. If too many details about the complaint are leaked, either party can accuse their employer or trying to damage their reputation.
If your company does not have clear policies on sexual harassment reporting or guidelines for handling complaints, they should develop them immediately and publish them in the employee handbook.