Conduct an Internal Investigation After Receiving a Complaint of Sexual Harassment

Key Points

  • Employers are obligated to take action by both federal and state law when they are notified regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. Failure to investigate and, if necessary, take steps to end the harassment and/or discipline the harasser, can and will expose an employer to significant financial liability.
  • Given the sensitive nature of sexual harassment complaints in the workplace, employers should use the utmost discretion whenever possible. Though confidentiality is something the employer should strive for, it should not guarantee confidentiality to the complaining employee or any witnesses, as doing so may compromise the effectiveness of the investigation.
  • In performing an employee investigation of a sexual harassment complaint, the HR professional should speak with the complaining employee, any witnesses thereto, and the employee accused of harassment. He or she should also review the personnel files of the involved employees to ascertain whether any previous complaints have been made. If the employee accused of harassment is a supervisor, the employer should be careful not to rely on that individual's recommendations when it comes to adverse employment actions to be taken against the complaining employee. Doing so may expose the employer to liability.

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