Sexual Harassment Investigations
Because employers are required to investigate claims of workplace sexual harassment, it is important to all parties involved to ensure a fair & thorough investigation has been conducted. Employers who have been put on notice that an incident has occurred should take action and begin the investigation process by contacting Special Investigations Group. Once we have been briefed, the employer should separate the employee claiming harassment from the alleged harasser or place the alleged harasser on leave until the investigative process is complete.
Allegations of sexual harassment are very serious, regardless of the outcome of the investigation. Employers are, at times, reluctant to conduct as in-depth an investigation of harassment as they should; sometimes they blame the employee alleging harassment and punish him or her. Other employers choose to just discipline or fire the alleged harasser, without properly investigating to confirm that he or she actually engaged in harassment. Neither of the previously described are a proper course of action for an employer. It is why we recommend an independent investigator be involved. The use of an independent investigator can removed tension and pressure from all involved and allow the employer to continue with business while the investigative process is underway.
After the investigation is complete, regardless of the findings, the employer must take appropriate action. If the investigator found that harassment occurred, the employer must take effective action to address what happened (such as disciplining the harasser or assigning the victim to a different manager) and to prevent it from happening again. In no event can the employer retaliate against the reporting employee. If the employer finds that the reporting employee made an intentionally false report of harassment, the employer may discipline the employee. An experienced employment attorney can monitor the employer’s actions after the investigation is concluded to make sure the reporting employee is treated fairly. If the investigation clears the alleged harasser, the employer should not take adverse action against him or her. If the employer disciplines or fires the employee, the employee may have a legal claim against the employer for wrongful termination.
Here are some things to consider if you are involved in a sexual harassment complaint:
Legally, the employer will want to avoid any possibility or appearance that the employee’s complaint was disregarded. Respond immediately.
Ethically, the employer will not want to allow such behavior to exist in their workplace.
The trust, morale, and fair treatment of employees are at stake. An employer’s actions send powerful signals about what another employee can expect in similar circumstances.
You may want to consider reposting and reiterating your sexual harassment policies across your whole workplace. Let the circumstances guide your judgment.
In all cases, make sure that you write and keep complete and accurate documentation. Employees who are unhappy with the results of your investigation may take additional legal action.