Handling Harassment Claims

Back at it with another big topic important to the HR world. Not only for newbies, but also executives and HR Professionals everyday.

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Last week I attended Northern Alabama SHRM September Workshop here in Huntsville. It was a full day of great information, with wonderful HR Pros sharing knowledge, tips, advice, how to’s, on the new, and the old. All of the speakers were awesome, but one of them really hit home on this topic. Mike Haberman discussed Investigation and Termination and here are a few tips that I found very beneficial.

Now, I don’t directly hands on deal with these types of investigations in my everyday role, the majority of it goes directly to my boss, unless she is out of the office. She allows for me to sit in the room and hear the investigation and shows me the process and steps on how to handle each claim.

The #1 Rule is – HR Cannot Promise Confidentiality: I was a little stumped about this until Mike explained it more in detail. There are a lot of moving parts in the investigation, including many people that must be interviewed. While the accused may not find out who brought the claim forward, other people that have been involved, will be brought into the mix as well.

There is a cost of not responding to a claim:

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  1. The bad behavior continues – if we ignore it, nothing will change. Even if the person stops harassing one victim, doesn’t mean he/she won’t move on to others.
  2. Lost Productivity – this does not only mean the victim, but also other employees that may work in that area. The harasser is losing productivity by causing these acts, and of course the victim is losing productivity by trying to avoid the harasser and situation all together. They may call out of work more often, come in late, be behind on projects.
  3. Lost of Talent – When your work starts to suffer, your job is in jeopardy. Being harassed can put someone in the position to lose his/her passion for a position or certain work. Think about the mental toll this type of harassment can cause someone in the company that is having to go through this, or have a friend/coworker go through this situation.
  4. Lost of money to settlements and court cost – when you ignore a claim, you are giving the harassed party the open door to head directly to a lawyer. Would you really want your company to be known as one that does not look out for the safety and well being of their employees, especially when the situation is brought to your doorsteps? Handling the investigation in a timely manner, means starting the investigation as soon as someone opens the door.
  5. Lost of Reputation – once again, its’ the not just the outlook of the company to the customers and the world, but what about how your employees will feel in an environment that does not make sure their people is safe in the doors of this business.

How can you have a reasonable investigation?

Make sure there is a neutral well trained investigator to handle this claim. Yes, normally HR is the department to turn to for investigations, but what if the HR department is being harassed? Find a person, like Mike, that has the background knowledge to handle these type of situations. Lawyers aren’t usually the person to hire for this, because if they conduct the investigation, they may not be able to handle your case in court.  Being about to find a good communication foundation is very important in any investigation. Sometimes the person being harassed won’t come out directly and inform you what is going on, a friend or fellow coworker may be that person. The harassed may also feel scared to come forward and give the details in an investigation. Taking them outside of the office to an undisclosed location and having a one on one conversation might make them more comfortable.

To finish off this post, I want to make sure to discuss two of the biggest lessons.

Be committed to finding the truth, regardless of where it leads and make it clear that retaliation will not be tolerated, in any manner. 

Image result for truthAs HR, we can not stop an investigation because of it’s direction. If an owner, executive, or even someone in HR has harassed any employee, they need to face the consequence of their actions. The party that has harassed a victim has done enough damage, retaliation is not an option in your company, and should be made very clear to every person involved. In one of my next post, I will discuss the importance of documentation during the investigation.

Until Next Time …

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