Keeping the peace inside the workplace is one of the main goals of all companies. And receiving a claim regarding sexual harassment can cause not only commotion but also questions about the safety of the work environment. Owning a business and keeping healthy surroundings is but a challenge indeed. Hence, as an owner, you must be prepared in any kind of situation. No matter how ugly things can get; learn to manage it. Be cautious about how the management will handle the situation. Remember, it is your duty to prevent any further damage.
Stick to your company’s rules
Follow your company’s guidelines on how to resolve this kind of situation. Your company’s way of handling this matter have a huge impact on the outcome of the claim. Moreover, it can as well affect any legal exposure. Even if you think that a certain complaint seems meritless; still do the right process. Because no matter how petty you might consider a claim, if it is not taken care of properly it can be a huge problem. And a complaint turned into a legal liability is a no-new thing in business. That is why sticking to your business’s rules is always your best option.
Your initial move? Conduct an investigation. This is the only way to determine if the sexual harassment allegations are valid. All companies have a guideline regarding this matter. Especially big companies; written and even guidelines that are posted on the company’s website should have this information. And even if you only have a small business and haven’t had written rules and guidelines yet. You must have at least an implemented standard operating procedure about sexual harassment complaint cases. Being said, for your business to accomplish good management you must already have a system in place for handling this kind of situations including:
- Human Resources- You must train certified employees who can handle sexual harassment complaints. They should be knowledgeable enough to know the proper process of investigating sexual harassment claims. Human resources are the go-to people of your employees. They must be professional and compassionate at the same time. Most employees feel most comfortable talking to their HR’s because they always think of them as a part of their team. This perspective makes your employees at ease. Making them feel that there are people who are willing to listen to them is one of the things your company needs especially in this situation. Getting all the information needed to certify the truth in their claims is vital. The HR employees must be mindful of all the details. Write full documentation about the complaint. Even though Human Resourcesloyalty is mainly to your company; they must be skillful enough to get the trust of your employees. Remember, HR is there to manage the balance and peace inside your company. They are the ones who communicate between the employees and the management.
- Keeping all private information private.- Confidential information should be kept hidden especially if the complaint would become the subject of litigation. This is a known fact. Anything regarding a complaint or case shouldn’t be brought outside the parties involved. Because one, this is a private matter that needs to deal with full seriousness. The situation might just worsen if someone talks about it outside. Second, it will just bring too much noise and can trigger gossip around the workplace. It is very unethical to commit rumors and hearsay in any kind of work. And lastly, making sure that everything will be kept in private is your company’s way of showing how professional your business is. Because a well managed and trustworthy company knows how to handle things like this.
- Conflict of interest- Make sure to know if there is any conflict of interest between the employer, harasser, investigator and other persons involved. This is not a rocket-science thing for us not to understand. Anything that might affect the judgment of the claim must be outcasted. Let say, one of the Human Resources employees that will conduct the investigation has an affair with the complainant or harasser. If that is the case, there might be a chance that the judgment of the investigator will be biased. Keep in mind that you are aiming for a fair investigation; be vigilant in choosing the right people to handle the complaint. Also, if ever that the investigator has nothing to do with the complainant and harasser; still check all the people involved. For example, the complainant claims that her supervisor (harasser) made sexual advantages to her. She even has a witness to solidify her claim. But her supervisor denied it and confessed that she is the one who has an unwelcome desire for him. When he turned her down, she threatens him that she will make a sexual harassment complaint. And her witness is an employee that he wasn’t able to give a promotion due to incompetence. The witness felt furious about it and being an accomplice with the complainant is his way of getting even. This kind of scenario really happens in real life. Hence, knowing all the information about all the people involved is a must.
- Legal Guidance- Get an outside legal counsel. It is best to have professional advice regarding serious matters like this. They can give you the right guidance on how to handle claims before it gets to a legal issue. Sexual harassment or sexual discrimination complaints can be a serious problem for your company if not handled properly. This can lead to punitive damages. Your company can be liable for punishment due to the inappropriate judgment of a complaint. Being said, following your company’s guidelines regarding the sexual harassment process is very important. For example, an employee seeks advice from her supervisor about a sexual harassment complaint. But her supervisor told her to let it slip for now since he thinks it is not that serious. The employee then made her own move without doing the proper process that only worsen the situation. The reckless advised by the supervisor was the reason why the complainant did such bold action. This may seem like a simple neglect to the supervisor’s part but mind you, your company may face a huge liability. Even this kind of mistake like not following proper policies and rule can make a significant loss to your business.
- Keep all the written records of the following:
- Full details of the claim or complaint. - Write down the date, day, time and place where the misconduct was made. Also, document how the complainant felt after the misbehavior was made.
- Plan for the preliminary investigation – Make a plan for the investigation. Gather all the information about all the parties involved in the complaint
- Response to the complaint – It is the detailed response of the harasser. Make sure that your company will conduct a fair investigation. Know all the details about the harasser’s answer. Often times, the parties involved have different versions of the stories about what really happened. So be meticulous in documenting the details and be mindful of their consistency.
- A full statement of the witnesses- Proofs and witnesses are very important in a sexual harassment claim. Hence, the investigator must be knowledgeable enough to fully identify an honest and genuine witness. Because anything that a witness might say if proven true; it can be the backbone of the claim.
- Amendment's documentation – Any changes or additional information must be written in documents to consider as valid. Therefore, keeping it safely filed is a must.
- Investigators findings or judgement – All the findings that are gathered after the investigation should be kept private.
- Result of investigation – The final result or outcome of the investigation must be documented. It is proof that the proper guidelines of the investigation were made by the company.
- Disciplinary actions to conduct – All of these documents are very important to give justice to the disciplinary action that was made. Hence, this document is proof of the judgment after the investigation.
- Harasser monitoring efforts – This is an important proof about the harasser’s actions after the investigation. Does he/she stopped or not. This will also tell if the claim was fully solved by the help of the HR or needs to be pursued legally.
Ensuring that all of this information is properly documented and kept is vital. This information is needed in case any further legal actions are made. This documentation is also proof that your company followed the proper guidelines and rules.
- Take disciplinary action as soon as possible- An immediate response to this kind of situation will not only give your company a good impression but will also show that you took this kind of claims very seriously. Though it is understandable that investigations like this need time to properly conducted; still your company must show urgency. If the judgment turned out that a policy was violated and there was really misconduct on the harasser’s part. Disciplinary action must be made. However, the punishment will still depend on the severity of the misconduct. If the misbehavior is not that serious; a warning and counseling may be given. Of course, the more violation that was made, the heavier the disciplinary action will be. It can be a suspension, cancellation of a promotion, and immediate termination of the wrongdoer. Just make sure to follow your company’s proper guidelines and rules. Ensure your company’s fair and safe workplace. Any employee will feel secure when they know that their company is willing to go extra miles for the sake of peace inside their workplace. Moreover, making a quick action after the investigation can prevent any unlawful conduct.
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