Handling Harassment

Would You Know What to Do with a Harassment Complaint?

Harassment. Just seeing the word in print probably gives you goose bumps. As an employer, it’s one of the most dreaded issues that can enter your office, and, if you’re like most people, you’d probably rather pretend you temporarily lost your hearing when your employee brought it up. “What complaint? I never heard anything about harassment?”

Let us tell you, avoiding the issue never works. In fact, pretending the issue doesn’t exist actually gets you in more trouble than if you bite the bullet and address it right away. So, instead of turning a blind eye and risking serious legal trouble, we suggest putting a plan of action into place so that you’ll be ready when harassment issues are raised in your workplace.

The first step in handling this tricky subject is simply to open up your ears. Listen to the accuser and take his or her complaint seriously. Be careful not to get defensive or to dismiss what they say. Instead, make note of the issue without retaliating, and keep your cool. (That last part may be the toughest.)

It’s highly unlikely that this will be an easy meeting for your employee, so expect emotions to be involved. If they truly have been victimized, they’re going to need an understanding boss now more than ever. Do your best to put your own emotions aside and, instead, take on an attitude of understanding and compassion. After the employee has shared his or her case, calmly let them know that they’ve been heard and that you will look into the issue.  Be careful not to agree or disagree with anything they say, just hear them out and take REALLY good notes.

Once the meeting is over, close your office door and take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. Just consider the situation, let your level-headed mind regain its composure and then get to work. You’ll need to conduct a thorough investigation of the claim while also keeping it confidential. Document the entire process and keep detailed records of whatever you discover. And, if this isn’t your area of expertise, it’s okay to ask for help. Bring in a third party such as a lawyer or HR professional (ahem…) to help you make sure you cover all the bases – because it’s incredibly important that these things are handled just right.

After you’ve got all the information, it’s time to determine what really happened and deal with the situation. If there is clearly a harassment issue, obviously, we can’t tell you what kind of punishment to issue, but popular options include suspensions, warnings and counseling or therapy. In extreme cases, a termination may need to happen and even criminal charges might need to be filed. If you’re unsure of the appropriate punishment, it’s a good idea to ask that third party who helped you out in the investigation.

When it comes to harassment, take our advice: Do NOT ignore the issue. Instead, face it head-on knowing that it’s not only your privilege to care for your employees but your responsibility too. If that means making sure justice is done in the workplace, then so be it. And, if you need help in the process, know that your friends at hr-haven (855.474.2836) are just a phone call away. We’ll help you tackle that dreaded H-word with confidence and restore peace and happiness to your workplace!