How to Properly Handle a Sexual Harassment Complaint

Category: Human Resources

Sexual harassment is a delicate task to tackle. It’s important to handle any complaints regarding sexual harassment correctly. Here’s an overview of the steps to follow to properly handle these complaints.

Make sure your company has a clear definition of and policies about sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is any act (spoken, written, gesture, and so on) occurring when one employee makes unwelcome sexual advances or requests, or other physical or verbal acts of a sexual nature, to another employee against the latter’s wishes. It creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment at work.

This definition should be, at a minimum, in your employee handbook. The handbook needs to state that the company has a no-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is against the law. Make it clear that sexual harassment can be reported to your Human Resources Department without fear of consequences or retaliation.

Talk to those involved.

Ask the employee to tell you what occurred, in their own words. Tell them they will be safe from any retaliation and reassure them that they took the proper action by coming to HR. Take careful notes of what was said, including people involved, witnesses, dates, and times.

Let the accused person know of the complaint. Tell them it will be investigated thoroughly and that a fair investigation is ongoing. Caution them not to retaliate. Interview them, taking careful notes about what they say.

Interview any witnesses. Be sure that your questions are open-ended; that is, don’t just ask them to corroborate what either previous interviewee has said with a “yes” or “no.” Get a complete, nonjudgmental sense of what they have seen.

Be sure to be nonjudgmental toward all parties. You are simply gathering views of what occurred.

Review all the information.

Once you have interviewed everyone concerned, thoroughly review all the information you’ve gathered. It’s a good idea to consult with other people in the HR department to get their perspective. It’s also prudent to consult with an attorney.

Make a decision.

After a thorough review and consultation about the case, first make the appropriate determination about whether or not the incident reported was sexual harassment vis-à-vis the law and your policies.

Second, determine what should happen if it was. It could include changing places or types of work, changing supervisor/supervisee or team relationships, changing the work environment, or pursuing disciplinary action.

Make sure that your determinations completely align with your stated policies.

Barracuda Consulting Can Help!

Sexual harassment complaints can be complicated and difficult to handle. It’s important to know the law and how to proceed in accordance with the law and your company’s policies. Barracuda Consulting is here to assist you in properly understanding how to handle cases. Call us to help with policies, standards, and complaint handling procedures.