Harassment in the Workplace

Employers today understand the need to have and distribute an anti-harassment policy that contains a clearly articulated complaint procedure. Unfortunately, employers often overlook other risk management components necessary to protect an organization from liability and build a culture that does not tolerate harassment or retaliation when allegations of harassment are reported to the employer. The days of simply having a harassment policy in the Employee Handbook or posting it on bulletin boards, but failing to include the other critical components of an effective harassment policy are gone.

The company’s position that this type of conduct is not tolerated should be codified in policy and in steps to enforce their policy. These other components are:

  • Effective training at all levels of the organization
  • Ensuring that those reporting allegations of harassment are protected from retaliation
  • Conducting effective investigations
  • Taking appropriate corrective action

Effective training: It is essential that all managers and supervisors, starting at the very top of the organization, are regularly trained to understand the laws regarding harassment; to identify conduct that constitutes harassment, discrimination and retaliation; and to respond to issues they observe in the workplace or are reported to them. The complaint or observations must make it to the appropriate company officials to ensure that they are investigated and remedied. Properly trained company managers and supervisors can more easily identify harassment problems in the workplace, thereby allowing the employer to more quickly and effectively take prompt action to resolve workplace harassment (and other conflict) issues. JER HR Group is equipped with senior level human resource professionals to provide this training. Contact us for details.

Protection from Retaliation: Many employers do not give this step enough attention and do not have a clear anti-retaliation statement in their policy. Some employers that have a strong statement fail to provide the training necessary for employees to understand what is and is not retaliation and what it looks like in the workplace. There are several steps the employer should take to protect those involved. First, the employer should, to the extent possible, advise all involved of the need for confidentiality during the investigation and/or interviews. Second, those involved should not be treated differently than before the investigation. Third, assure all that no one will be retaliated against for sharing truthful information with the investigator.  Fourth, inform all involved that the content of the interviews with them should be kept confidential. Finally, all should be informed that they should discuss any problems related to this investigation with the investigating official.

A Few Reasons to Be Cautious: Protecting the company’s interests while pursuing the facts is crucial during the investigation. The company needs to understand that attorney/client privilege does not attach to an investigation unless it is conducted by or through an attorney. Even then, there could be limitations to attorney-client privilege. All notes, documents, and details are likely to be subject to discovery should legal action result from the complaint.

Conduct an Effective Investigation: Conducting an effective investigation is arguably the most important step. Managers and supervisor should not be allowed to conduct investigations unless they are trained to do so. Rather, they should report the complaint, observation and/or any suspicion of misconduct to the appropriate official in the company.

Who should conduct the investigation? Choosing the right investigator is a key to an effective investigation. It is very important for an employer to keep several things in mind when selecting an investigator. First, the investigator should have a clean background, (e.g. no history or involvement in harassment in the past). Second, the investigator should have a working knowledge of the company’s harassment policies and equal employment obligations.  Third, the investigator should have training in methods and procedures for handling investigations and have the capability of remaining impartial, objective and fair. Finally, it may be appropriate for the investigator to be the same gender as the victim.

JER HR Group can also help your organization navigate the investigation process. Let us know if we can partner with you!