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How to handle a harassment complaint

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2023 | Employment Law for Employers |

New York employers know that allegations of bias, discrimination or harassment at their workplace can have a damaging impact on business reputation. Workplace harassment comes in many different forms and it is important to know what to do if an employee comes to you with a harassment complaint.

Do not ignore the complaint

One of the worst actions you can take is no action. Complaints of harassment or bullying by employees should be taken seriously. Even if you are unsure of what your exact next steps will be, taking quick action will show the employee that their situation matters.

Knowing what to do can be difficult if your business does not already have a workplace harassment policy in place. If you do not, perhaps now is the time to consider having one drafted.

If you do have a policy in place, your next steps should follow the procedure outlined in your policy.

Regardless of the status of a harassment policy, here are some tips that apply to any situation.

Listen and be respectful

Give the employee as much time as they need to tell their story. No matter the outcome of the situation, knowing that they were listened to can make a major difference in how an employee feels about the experience.

Do not interrupt the employee while they are talking, except to ask clarifying questions quickly and politely. Part of your job as an employer is to get all the facts of the situation and have a thorough understanding of them before taking any action.

Tell the employee that you appreciate them bringing this to you. A simple “thank you” to the employee can go a long way toward showing them that you are taking their complaint seriously.

Assure the employee their complaint will remain confidential

Next it is time to begin your investigation. A confidentiality clause is an essential part of any workplace harassment policy. Reassure the employee that everything they told you will be kept confidential. This will help them feel secure that there will be no retaliation for coming forward.

Set up times to speak with everyone involved in the situation. Tell upper management about the complaint so that everyone is on the same page and there is less chance of miscommunication or gossip.

As part of your investigation, speak with everyone involved and take detailed notes. Document every conversation and action.

Stay professional and treat everyone fairly

When speaking with employees, treat everyone with respect and professionalism. Continue to do so even if it is difficult, such as when an employee becomes angry or upset over what is happening. The alleged bully or harasser may take out their feelings on you or feel as if they are being unfairly targeted.

Although a prompt response to the allegations is necessary, do not rush through the investigation. Remember that your job as an employer is to get to the truth of what is happening and that can take time.

After the investigation is complete and the situation handled, consider what you can do in the future to prevent this from happening again. Training on workplace harassment for all employees might be a good idea.