Typically, the company’s human resources department is where a sexual harassment report ends up, but this should not be where the issue ends. To protect employees – and prevent legal trouble – HR departments should be ready to respond appropriately to this type of complaint.
Forbes recommends that companies take these actions after a sexual harassment complaint.
- Inform the right people
Upper management, the executive team and the board of directors should all be aware of the situation as it unfolds. Sexual harassment claims often result in media attention, and these company leaders should not learn about the situation from outside sources.
The company’s legal team should also receive notification immediately. If the company carries an Employment Practices Liability Insurance policy, a representative should inform the insurance company of the claim.
- Show respect to the complaining employee
Reporting sexual harassment takes courage, and if an employee sees that the HR representative is taking the complaint seriously, he or she may be less likely to escalate the issue. Taking the complaint seriously goes beyond listening and responding appropriately in the employee’s presence. The HR department should launch an investigation into the matter immediately, choosing a neutral investigator who has no ties to anyone involved.
- Protect the employee and the alleged wrongdoer
It is likely a good idea to create distance between the employee and the person who allegedly harassed him or her. This may involve moving them to different departments so they do not have direct contact, or, if the allegations are more serious, one or both may need to go on paid leave during the investigation. To prevent retaliation on either party, supervisors should receive instruction on how to deal correctly with the situation.
- Review the anti-harassment policy
Ideally, the company already has a policy that addresses sexual harassment. This should include descriptions and examples of the forbidden conduct, the rights of employees and how the company will handle complaints.
If this document is not already in the employee handbook, the HR department should create it and ensure that all employees receive and understand it. An anti-harassment policy is an important part of a healthy company culture.