In this episode, we answer four common questions regarding harassment in the workplace.
We received a complaint about harassment. How should we respond?
When a company suspects that an employee has violated its harassment or discrimination policy, we recommend conducting a complete (and well-documented) investigation into the allegations. This includes speaking with the employee who made the complaint, the accused employee, and any witnesses they name. A memo summarizing the findings should be placed in the accused employee’s file.
Take the appropriate action, whether it is to terminate the accused employee or to conduct corrective measures such as a written warning and additional training on the company harassment policy. It is often prudent to consult with legal counsel upon receipt of any allegations of harassment or discrimination.
We had an employee claim she was harassed by a coworker, but instead of coming to management, she posted to social media. Can we discipline her for not reporting the harassment to a supervisor?
Employers should avoid disciplining an employee who has made claims of harassment. Even if it wasn’t reported in the workplace, it is important to begin an investigation into the alleged harassment right away. Since you are aware of the behavior, failing to investigate and stop the harassment could open you to liability. Taking action, investigating the harassment, and documenting your efforts may provide protection if your choices surrounding the social media post are challenged.
It is also important to have a social media policy in place, as well as a policy and procedure for employees to report workplace harassment. In the future, this may help an employee report the situation to a supervisor or manager instead of posting on social media.
Do we need to investigate rumors of harassment even if no one has made a complaint?
Yes, we recommend you investigate. A company always has some inherent liability in relation to discriminatory or harassing comments or behavior. The level of liability usually correlates to the nature, severity, and context of the comments, the position of the employee who made them, and what the employer does or does not do about it.
Since you have knowledge of a potential situation, we recommend you investigate the matter and take appropriate disciplinary action if it turns out your anti-harassment policy was violated. As you conduct the investigation, document the discussions you have as well as your findings and reassure those you interview that their participation will not result in retaliation.
I just received an anonymous complaint. What do I do?
When an employer receives an anonymous complaint, it is important to remain calm and review the complaint objectively, even if the accusations seem false or egregious. Although the complaint was received anonymously, the company still has an obligation to take action, if necessary, to ensure that employees are provided a workplace that is safe and free from harassing or discriminatory conduct.
If you do not have enough information, follow up within available channels, request additional information, and make use of your company’s anonymous reporting tool if applicable.