As awareness surrounding workplace harassment grows, effective sexual harassment investigations are a must. Prompt, thorough investigations help deter future misconduct. Moreover, an effective sexual harassment investigation may help an employer avoid liability—even if harassment occurred—by showing that it took reasonable steps to prevent and to correct harassing behavior. By contrast, failure to investigate may call into question an employer’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace and may even support punitive damages.
Investigating sexual harassment complaints often is easier said than done. The topic itself makes many people uncomfortable. In addition, the person who complained wants immediate action. Similarly, the accused wants to clear his or her name without delay. Despite such pressure, effective decision-making demands that the employer obtain a thorough understanding of the facts. That can take time.
Effective investigators gather facts in an impartial manner. Their goal is to help management make informed decisions. Informed decisions are more likely to be fair to all involved parties. The entire process should be credible. Other employees, and sometimes the public, may be watching.
Common Questions About Sexual Harassment Investigations
In a series of posts over the coming weeks, I will attempt to help you answer common questions like:
- Who should I use to investigate claims of sexual harassment?
- How do I determine the scope of a sexual harassment investigation?
- What questions should I ask when investigating sexual harassment?
- What should a report of a sexual harassment investigation look like?
In my next post, I will address who should conduct the sexual harassment investigation.
(This post is not legal advice. Consider consulting with a lawyer about specific situations.)