In your company, you probably have procedures in place for dealing with emergencies, such as if there is a fire in the building, severe weather or a power outage. You may even have trainings, drills or meetings to prepare for such events. This way, if something happens, you can react in a calm and orderly way, bringing about the most positive outcome possible.
Is the same true for the possibility that someone on your staff complains about being sexually harassed on the job? Do you have a plan? Will you know what is required of you legally and ethically? Do your employees know what they can expect from you in the way you will respond to their complaints? If your answer to these questions is no, now is the time to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for handling complaints of sexual harassment.
9 steps to take after a complaint
Your employees have the right to feel safe at work, and if someone experiences harassment on the job, that feeling of security can quickly fade away. Ideally, your environment of zero-tolerance will deter misbehavior, but you should be prepared nonetheless. Sexual harassment does not happen only to women or only in certain industries, so you will want to let go of those myths. Instead, develop, post and enforce policies that protect all your employees, and take these steps if someone comes to you with a sexual harassment complaint:
- Make sure the complaining employee knows you are taking the matter seriously.
- Give your full attention to the employee and take notes as he or she relates the details of the harassment.
- Inform the employee that you may not be able to keep this confidential if the matter must involve law enforcement.
- Meet privately with anyone who may have witnessed the supposed harassment.
- Give the same fair attention to the person accused of misbehavior.
- Contact an attorney who has experience counseling employers facing these difficult situations.
- Determine the most appropriate disciplinary action if your investigation determines the complaint is valid.
- Follow up with both parties to explain the outcome of your investigation.
- Review your sexual harassment policy, revise where needed, and schedule a training for all employees.
Any documentation of the incident and your investigation should go into a file separate from the personnel files of your employees. You will want to keep careful notes of every interview and each step you take in case the matter should go to court.