Responding to an Employee Harassment Complaint
Complaints of sexual harassment (or other kinds of harassment) are protected activity to which an employer’s response must be prompt and effective. If you become aware of a harassment complaint, your actions should include the following steps:
REFER THE COMPLAINT TO A DESIGNATED INDIVIDUAL.Receive complaint, be an active neutral listener, reassure employee that he/she did the right thing coming forward, and then immediately notify the individual designated to receive complaints.
REVIEW COMPLAINT AND ASSESS NEED TO INVESTIGATE.You should investigate all complaints, unless there are compelling reasons not to (i.e., the facts are not in dispute).
ASSIGN AN INVESTIGATOR.Should be a knowledgeable, objective, and skilled investigator. Consider whether the investigator should be external to the Company.
INVESTIGATE COMPLAINT.Should be flexible and tailored to the circumstances. Consider the following:
- Do promptly investigate the complaint and take the time to gather all the pertinent facts
- Do take steps to protect the complainant while the investigation is on-going (e.g. placing the accused on administrative leave)
- Do ask the complainant to document complaint in writing
- Do ask the accused to summarize his/her response in writing
- Do Not use email to communicate about the investigation (neutral emails requesting or transmitting information are ok, but do not comment on a pending investigation in writing)
- Do interview any potential witnesses and/or any identified by the complainant
- Do ask key witnesses to provide statements
- Do tell the accused and all witnesses that retaliation will not be tolerated
DETERMINE IF A POLICY VIOLATION HAS OCCURRED.Consider 1) inherent plausibility or implausibility of the allegations, 2) demeanor of the parties, 3) possible motivations, 4) any corroboration, 5) any past similar behaviors, and 6) reputation(s) for honesty.
DECIDE ON APPROPRIATE REMEDIAL ACTION.Needs to be effective–stop the behavior.
DOCUMENT INVESTIGATION AND TAKE DISCIPLINARY ACTION.Prepare investigation report and document any remedial action.
MAINTAIN CONFIDENTIALITY TO THE EXTENT POSSIBLE.Do not disclose unless necessary to investigate and/or beyond the “need-to-know” group.
FOLLOW-UP WITH COMPLAINANT.Notify complainant of the results of the investigation and reaffirm policy against harassment and retaliation; check periodically with complainant.
DO NOT RETALIATE.Promptly investigate any complaints of retaliation.