One of the most expensive complaints a worker might have about their job involves allegations of sexual harassment. If a worker convinces a court that harassment has affected their career or their mental health, their employer could potentially face a sizable judgment in addition to reputation-related damage stemming from these claims.
Some companies simply try to shut down any allegations of sexual harassment as soon as workers start to complain in an attempt to avoid conflict. However, ignoring a toxic work environment and/or allegations against one employee could later backfire and harm the organization. Those companies that fail to act to stop and prevent harassment may be liable for it when it occurs.
What is the appropriate way to respond to claims of workplace sexual harassment?
Document the report and investigate thoroughly
Even when the manager or human resources professional fielding the complaint questions the validity of the accusations, they should not let their suspicions show. Instead, they need to be neutral and gather as much information as possible from the party making the complaint.
They can then use that information to investigate the claims. Talking to other employees, reviewing security camera footage and otherwise seeking to corroborate an employee’s claims while documenting each step will be necessary to establish that the business has taken the issue as seriously as it should. The results of the investigation will then determine the next step the business should take.
Communicate regardless of the investigation’s outcome
Both the person making the complaint and the parties accused of harassment will likely need to hear from management or human resources after the resolution of the investigation.
If the business substantiates the claim, the organization should disclose to the person affected how they will resolve the issue. In some cases, the person harassing a co-worker could lose their job. Other times, they may end up transferred to a different department, demoted or ordered to undergo special training.
If the company investigation does not support the claims made by one worker, then human resources will likely need to share what the investigation uncovered so that the worker at least knows that the business did take the complaint seriously and investigate thoroughly.
Taking appropriate steps and maintaining thorough records can reduce the likelihood that a business will end up being held financially responsible for sexual harassment allegations.