Employers have a high degree of responsibility to both prevent and respond to harassment investigations. If it's not already, it should be high on the list of priorities for employee management.
There are guidelines the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has established, and employers are expected to follow them. In reality, a harassment investigation should be addressed proactively by providing all personnel with clear indication of what is and isn't appropriate behavior at the workplace.
However, employees don't always follow the rules as intended, or there may be misinterpretations that ultimately lead to a complaint. In this case, employers should have an effective strategy in place to ensure investigations run as smoothly as possible.
There's no reason to wait before conducting a harassment investigation. Supervisors, provided they're not the subject of the complaint, should notify the human resources manager as soon as possible. Since HR is usually the intermediary in these cases, the department should identify an internal investigator who can act impartially on behalf of both the claimant and the individual charged with the indiscretion, according to the American Bar Association. This person should also have a clean record and full knowledge of the company's harassment policies, as well as EEOC guidelines.
Get written documentation
According to HR Hero, it's important to ensure the investigator keeps track of all statements and reports and maintains them in case the situation escalates and moves to trial. All documentation should be verified and signed by the witnesses in the investigation. This will lend credibility to the investigation and better protect against subjectivity. At the same time, clearly document that the claimant, the individual charged with harassment and witnesses won't face any kind of retaliation.
Interview both parties
The American Bar Association suggested the investigator begins by speaking with the alleged victim. Establish a clear background by asking the five primary questions: who, what, when, where and how. It's also a good idea to maintain anonymity of both parties. The alleged harasser should be given the chance to explain the circumstance from his or her perspective as well. In the case that an employee brings a charge against a superior, it's advisable to send him or her home until the investigation culminates.
Once the investigation concludes, make an expeditious, but accurate judgment based on the events, witness testimonies and interviews. Don't belabor the process because it may end up damaging relationships to a greater degree.
An effective anti-harassment policy should be the first step in eliminating this issue in the workplace. However, employers need to take the proper steps to enable both fair and decisive investigations.