Ten Best Practices When Conducting Sexual Harassment Investigations
Sexual harassment has been a frequent, and necessary, topic of discussion in our society. As you know, an organization is mandated to implement proactive measures to prevent harassment in the workplace. Further, an organization is required to correct sexually harassing behavior promptly and effectively. A comprehensive internal investigation of alleged sexual harassment is one way an employer can fulfill its obligations. The following are ten best practices to follow when conducting sexual harassment investigations:
1. Report the employee’s complaint immediately (i.e., supervisors should immediately report sexual harassment complaints to human resources or other designated office).
2. Initiate the investigation promptly.
3. Implement preliminary/temporary remedial measures during the inquiry (e.g., U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines and federal case law suggest the complaining employee should be separated from the alleged harasser until the completion of the investigation).
4. Review federal agency (EEOC) guidelines regarding conducting sexual harassment investigations (see www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/harassment.html).
5. Develop a comprehensive investigative file (i.e., thorough reports, all relevant evidence collected).
6. Interview all potential persons with knowledge of the allegations.
7. Ensure retaliation does not occur.
8. Maintain the confidentiality of the allegation and investigation.
9. Remain objective (i.e., do not pre-judge complaint and refrain from being a subjective investigator).
10. Investigate and issue discipline consistent with prior cases (e.g., do not protect a senior administrator who has been accused of harassment while issuing more serious discipline against other employees accused of similar conduct).
Source: Lauren M. Cooper, “HR Hero Line California Employment Law Letter” (July 31, 2012).