How to handle harassment and discrimination complaints

22 Oct

Harassment must be addressed quickly.

Addressing harassment in the workplace is a matter of great importance. According to Nolo, a non-profit legal information website, if employee management handles harassment badly, it can lead to costly legal battles and investigations by the government. All complaints must be handled carefully and with the proper consideration, or else companies may put themselves at liability.

Nolo recommended that HR leaders treat complaints with respect and compassion, keeping an open mind about what happened. Employees who speak about an issue have likely put a lot of thought into their complaint and probably feel anxious or worried about what they have done – it hasn't been something that was made lightly, and therefore, companies should address the  concerns very carefully and as soon as possible. Don't immediately disagree even if the person who was called out for harassment is someone that other people think well of.

Before the complaint is made
Companies should have a harassment policy in place. The policy should address anything that could come up in ways that honor the rights of both the person cited in the complaint along with the individual who made the complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, HR Hero reported, has issued a rule that all workplaces must have an established harassment policy.

Some examples of harassment include, but are not limited to:

  • Offensive comments that are delivered persistently
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Making false accusations
  • Physical assault
  • Sabotaging the victim's work

Additional concerns to address are the work environment. The place where employees work can be called hostile when a responsible person would find it hostile for one or more people. This happens when one or more people create an intimidating or oppressive feeling at work.

Once the complaint is made
Make sure to keep the complaint confidential. Additionally, have it set down in writing. Following that, interview whoever is involved, including bystanders or other people who might have heard something. Ensure the interviews are recorded. If it comes to it, then act on the policy and discipline the person who committed the act.

Failure to act on a harassment policy, or if the policy doesn't correspond with best practices put forth by the EEOC, may cause the government to step in. Once the government is involved, employers must comply with everything the government said. Nolo cited that it may be a good idea to hire a lawyer at this point if one isn't on staff or hasn't been hired yet. The government could issue fines if the law isn't followed to the letter.

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