Protect your organization from employee lawsuits for harassment by focusing your attention on both preventive and corrective measures.
Provide every employee with a copy of your policy and complaint procedure and redistribute it periodically. Train all employees to make sure they understand their rights and responsibilities.
Your policy and complaint procedure should contain:
- A clear explanation of prohibited conduct.
- Assurance that employees who report harassment or provide information related to complaints will be protected against retaliation.
- A clearly described complaint process that provides the names and numbers of contact people.
- Assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the greatest extent possible.
- A process that provides a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation.
- Assurance that you will take immediate and appropriate action.
A procedure should be designed to encourage victims to come forward. It shouldn't be rigid or complex. When an employee complains toabout alleged harassment, you are obligated to investigate, regardless of the format.
Designate at least one supervisor outside an employee's chain of command to take complaints.
As soon as management learns about alleged harassment, determine whether a detailed fact-finding investigation is necessary. If it is, launch it immediately.
During the probe, make sure further harassment doesn't occur. You may need to transfer the alleged harasser or place him on nondisciplinary leave with pay.
Make sure the investigator is someone who can objectively gather and consider the relevant facts. They should be well trained in skills for interviewing witnesses and evaluating credibility.
When all of the evidence is in, the investigator or a management official who reviews the report should determine whether harassment occurred. Report the decision to everyone involved.
If the evidence is inconclusive, reiterate your policy to employees and institute further preventive measures, such as training and monitoring.
Discipline and records
Remedial measures should correct the effects of the harassment and put employees who complain in the position they would have been in had the misconduct not occurred.
For example, you may want to restore leave taken by the victim because of the harassment.
Your responsibility to prevent and correct harassment is not limited to setting up an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure. Make sure supervisors and managers understand their own responsibilities.
Finally, keep records of all harassment complaints to help identify patterns by an individual.
Frederick M. Walton Jr. is an attorney with Harvey, Pennington, Cabot, Griffith & Renneisen, Ltd.