Harassment at Work: Investigating

 In Anti-Bullying, Harassment

Harassment at Work: Investigating

coursedetailsWhat is workplace harassment?

Harassment can be considered a form discrimination in employment. Harassment is unwelcome behavior that is based upon race, color or religion (including gender identity or pregnancy), age, disability or genetic information (including family history).

A victim’s supervisor, another supervisor in the same area, an agent of their employer, a coworker or non-employee can all be harassers. The harasser does not necessarily have to be the victim, but anyone who is affected by the offensive conduct can.

Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees against harassment and bullying. It is important to investigate all allegations quickly and thoroughly. Employers’ actions in handling harassment complaints internally can have a significant impact on employees’ confidence in the future work reporting system.

If there is a system where people feel secure and can voice their concerns about workplace conduct, it will be easier to fix them before they escalate to “severe, pervasive” illegal conduct. It is easy for problems to escalate and become more severe if this system isn’t in place or managers aren’t trained to deal with complaints.

Steps to a successful workplace harassment investigation

Employers may be uncertain about how to handle complaints regarding inappropriate conduct that doesn’t rise to harassment level under the law. This could include personal conflicts, accidental minors, microaggressions or relatively minor incidents. These are some ways to make a negative experience for your employees more pleasant.

  • Select the right investigators. Planning is key to a successful internal investigation process. It all starts with a competent investigator. This role is usually filled by HR managers, but employers may need to seek outside legal counsel if the situation involves executives or high-ranking personnel. An external investigator can’t represent an employer in any ensuing litigation.
  • If necessary, take immediate action. If the situation is dangerous or could cause damage to your business, you might need to take immediate action. You might suspend an employee accused of sexual assault, theft of trade secrets or bringing a weapon into work. This will allow you to investigate the matter. However, you should not prejudge the situation and lead the accused employee into believing that you have already decided.
  • Create a plan. The investigator should decide if the questions are related to the original investigation. Do you need to start a new investigation? A plan can help the investigator navigate the various steps.
  • Establishing the facts. To establish the facts, the investigator should interview all parties and any witnesses in relation to each allegation. Additional allegations may be made during the investigation. These allegations should be brought to attention by the person who is responsible for handling the harassment complaint process in order to determine if they should be included within the mandate for investigation. These allegations must be submitted in writing to the respondent if they become part of an investigation.
  • Keep your objective. The investigator should not be involved in the incident or be under the direct supervision of the harasser.
  • Do your research. Be thorough. Ask specific questions regarding the complaint or incident when interviewing.
  • Develop adequate documentation. Document every investigation with the worst case scenario in mind. This is the investigator being cross-examined before a jury about each sentence. The reports should be well-written and thorough. Witness statements should be signed by witnesses.

Respect and show compassion to the complainant It is often difficult for employees to complain about harassment or discrimination. They feel afraid and vulnerable. This can impact the quality of their work and lead to them seeking outside help from lawyers. Be understanding when an employee raises concerns about harassment or discrimination. Employees who are able to see that you take the problem seriously will be less inclined to escalate it to a government agency, or even to court.

You must take prompt and corrective action. After interviews have been completed (and credibility issues resolved), the employer should quickly determine if there has been any discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation. Employers should immediately take appropriate and reasonable disciplinary action against the accused if they are able to prove that misconduct occurred. This could include termination, if necessary. It is crucial that the employer only takes any action against the accused after an exhaustive investigation has been completed.

Both parties should be informed about the findings of the investigation. An employer should inform both the victim an

d the harasser promptly about the findings of an investigation into a complaint of sexual harassment or non-sexual harassment. The results of the investigation are briefly explained.

Last Thought

Every worker has the right to a safe, healthy work environment. Employers have a responsibility to stop harassment from occurring again and to deal with it. You should not wait for harassment to become “severe” or pervasive before you take action. Employers and supervisors can be held legally responsible if they fail to take action to end harassment. It is important to stop harassing behavior. An investigation or complaint could indicate that employees need more training.

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