What is the first step a supervisor should take in response to a harassment complaint?
- On 25 March 2022
- Posted by Chantal Mariotti
Well, this all depends…. If you have a human resources department, the supervisor should inform the head of human resources immediately. For those smaller companies that don’t have a professional HR person on staff, then the supervisor should inform his/her department head, or the company owner so that an investigation can be conducted.
Company’s Legal Responsibility
Once an employee presents a complaint of harassment or discrimination, it is required by law, that the company conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of the allegations presented to them. Often times, the company may retain an HR Consultant; a third-party to conduct the investigation.
The company may choose to “suspend pending investigation” the alleged aggressor. This way, the person is removed from the workspace until such time the investigation is concluded. Remember; the investigation must be immediate and thorough, so hopefully the suspended employee won’t be off of work too long, unless of course the outcome of the investigation shows that she/he was culpable of harassment or discrimination. That investigation finding may lead to the termination of her/his employment.
Once the investigation is concluded, then it is required by law, that the company circle back with the complainant, to let him/her know the results and outcome of the investigation.
How to Conduct an Investigation
Interview the complainant. Take notes… because we all know “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen”. You can also ask the complainant to write a statement in his/her own words. Always ask during the interview specific questions such as the date and time it happened, how many times it happened and where it happened. Ask if any witnesses were present and who may have seen the inappropriate behavior. If so, ask for the names of those witnesses.
Interview any witnesses that may have seen the alleged behavior. Again here, ask what, where and when they might have seen the inappropriate behavior. Try to be as precise and detailed as possible with your questions. Often times, witnesses will also have been placed in a situation of harassment or discrimination themselves and have never reported it. Here too, make sure you carefully take notes of exactly what was said to you during these interviews. In general, it should take between 30 minutes to one hour to interview a witness, depending on the circumstances and the complexity of the matter. Make sure to tell the complainant, and any witnesses to keep the interview confidential. Breaking that confidentiality may hinder the integrity of the investigation.
Prepare your questions for the alleged aggressor – Now that you’ve received the complainants’ and witness statements, you can begin preparing your questions for the alleged aggressor. Make sure to include questions where you’ve received corroborating statements from complainant and witnesses.
Interview the alleged aggressor – Once these questions are well crafted, interview the alleged aggressor, taking scrupulous notes on what her/his answers are to your questions. If at all possible, DO NOT share with him/her, the names of the witnesses you’ve spoken with. You can say something like: “I’ve interviewed a number of employees, and many have told me that on [insert date], you [outline inappropriate behavior]. Then wait for his/her response and write it down.
Prepare your Report – You want to make sure that your entire investigation report is well documented and maintained in soft and hard copy in a safe, confidential area.
The investigation report should include:
- Background about the company – number of employees, location, etc.
- The Complaint – provide a narrative about the complaint itself, plus the name and position of the person complaining, and the allegations made during the complaint.
- List of persons interviewed – Include their name, position and date of hire.
- Findings – List in separate paragraphs, the findings of your investigation.
- Recommendations – Depending on the findings, list your recommendations for moving forward.
Circle back with the Complainant as to your investigation findings.
Retaining an independent third-party to conduct your internal investigation of harassment or discrimination is an HR Best Practice.
Need help with an internal investigation? Visit https://executivehrconsulting.com/hr-consultants to select the best HR Consultant for your needs.