Investigating Claims of Sexual Harassment

Investigating Claims of Sexual Harassment

  • Date: Monday 22nd July 2019
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Since the #MeToo movement highlighted the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace there has been a dramatic increase in sexual discrimination claims bought by employees against their employer.  Cases increased by 69% from 5,520 in 2017/18 to 9,340 in 2018/19. 

The #MeToo movement combined with a number of high-profile employers becoming involved in harassment scandals are likely to be drivers in the increase in women reporting their experiences.

Awareness training and a robust harassment free workplace policy are the first steps that employers need to take to stop and prevent harassment in their workplaces. 

It is important that each employee is made aware of the conduct expected from them under the policy and that employees who feel that they are the recipient of unwanted behaviour know how to report their concerns.  Helping employees understand that a comment they make as “banter” may make the recipient feel uncomfortable, humiliated or offended even though it was not their intention.

To reduce the risk of harassment some employers have taken the following actions:

  • Prohibited men and women sharing rental cars alone on business trips
  • Banned employees from staring at each other
  • Discouraged hugging
  • Avoided co-workers describing each other with certain terms e.g. “looking attractive.”
  • Reducing alcohol at work related events

How to Investigate Claims

What should you do if an employee does makes a complaint of harassment against a work colleague? 

The starting point is to ensure you follow a fair process for everyone involved and document all the facts.  The steps to consider are:

  • Appoint an objective manager or senior employee to conduct an investigation
  • Meet with the individual/s who made the complaint
  • Ask the employee to detail their complaint in writing and record what occurred.  Ask them to note who was present, the location, the time and the date
  • Interview any witnesses
  • Plan questions in advance.  Ask open questions starting with What? Why? How?
  • Take detailed notes (the manager should be supported by a note taker at each interview).
  • Obtain supporting documentation (e.g. e-mails or documents that corroborate the claims)
  • Inform all witnesses interviewed of the need for confidentiality following the meeting
  • Ask for consent from witnesses for the statement to be shared with the employee accused of the misconduct.

Then speak with the employee accused of the misconduct to ensure you fairly gather information from their perspective. 

  • Explain the allegations to the employee at the meeting
  • If the employee does not cooperate explain that the statements of other witness may weigh against them. 
  • Plan questions in advance.  Ask open questions starting with What? Why? How?
  • Remind the employee of the need for confidentiality and that there should be no retaliation.

The investigation manager should summarise their findings into a written report.  The investigation should then be reviewed by the accused employee’s line manager and a decision taken, based on the evidence, on whether or not to hold a disciplinary hearing.

The employee who raised the original complaint should be met with and informed that the investigation has been completed, their concerns were taken seriously, and that appropriate action has been taken.  This should also be confirmed in writing. 

The exact outcome of any disciplinary procedure should not be shared as this is a private matter between the accused and the employer.

For further advise on any issues in this article please contact your SSG HR Consultant.

Source: Gavin Parrott

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