Investigating Claims of Harassment in the Workplace

November 22nd, 2014

Many businesses are not immune to workplace harassment. For example, a former employee of a business in Texas sued his employer for harassing him. Among other claims of verbal and physical abuse, the employee’s suit alleges that colleagues repeatedly assaulted him with a Taser. If your company does not have a process by which your managers can follow investigate claims of harassment, you should consider adopting one. Here are some best practices your policies against harassment should contain:

Clearly State That You Do Not Condone Harassment: Your employee handbook and any other documents you have governing employee conduct should clearly state your business is a workplace free from harassment. Often, harassers will claim that they were unaware that the party harassed found their conduct offensive. Instead, they will try to dismiss the harassment as harmless pranks or joking. The extent to which you tolerate employees joking with one another or performing pranks can be a slippery slope. It is hard to determine when such conduct becomes offensive to the injured party, and the recipient of the pranks or jokes may not even be the person filing the complaint. If your management team observes conduct that may be, or leads to, harassment, they should intervene and stop the conduct. Frequent training on identifying and addressing potential harassment is key to detecting and stopping this conduct.

Document Incidents of Harassment Thoroughly: If an employee claims a fellow employee harassed him or her, the employee’s supervisor, or another member of the dealership staff, should thoroughly document and investigate the employee’s claims. Documentation should include the following: when the employee made the allegation, which employees were interviewed, what was disclosed during these interviews, and what, if any, steps were taken in response. Thorough documentation of claims of harassment helps in the event the complaining employee files suit against his or her colleagues and/or the employer.

Have Multiple Ways Employees Can File Complaints: Employees may not feel comfortable talking to their immediate supervisor about possible harassment, so you should have multiple avenues by which employees can alert your management team of possible issues. You should designate individuals in multiple departments, or if you have one, your human resources personnel, as employees authorized to investigate complaints. In order to foster impartiality, you should consider having disinterested parties, such as managers from departments other than the employee’s, investigate the complaint. This is also helpful to rule out whether the supervisor condoned or encouraged the offensive conduct.

Report Findings and Take Action: If you determine that harassment occurred, you must take the most appropriate level of discipline. If you determine that the findings of the investigation do not support the employee’s allegation, you should communicate these findings to the employee who filed the complaint. Remember, you should not discipline employees for filing complaints. It is key to promote an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing issues to their supervisors.

Many state and federal laws allow employees to recover damages as well as attorney’s fees from claims of workplace harassment. To minimize risk of such claims, you should adopt a thorough training program that includes identifying and investigating claims of workplace harassment.

Please give us a call at 516-873-3000 so that our firm can help you develop and implement these processes.

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