Receiving a Harassment Complaint (Part 3)

In my last blog, I reviewed the impact that harassment can have on an individual and the organization. When an individual comes to make a complaint of harassment you will not have time to prepare. That’s why the pro-active steps outlined in “Harassment in the Workplace” Part #1 are so important.

If an employee comes to you to discuss a complaint of harassment, make time to talk to the employee immediately, explain the company’s harassment policy, take thorough notes of what the employee says, and get the complaint to human resources for an investigation. These are just some of the things that managers need to do. However, there are certain things that a manager should not do when an employee comes forward.1

  • Don’t put off the discussion. Make the time. The employee may not come back if you put it off.
  • Don’t promise the employee that the complaint will be kept confidential. That’s not possible because an investigation will have to be conducted. You can explain that the information will be shared only on a “need to know” basis.
  • Don’t interrupt the employee. Let the employee share his or her perspective.
  • Don’t wait to write down what the employee says. Write it down while the employee is speaking but if that’s not possible, do it shortly thereafter.
  • Don’t speculate or embellish. Write down the words the employee used and the words you heard.
  • Don’t ask judgmental questions. e.g. “Couldn’t you have just talked to your colleague instead of making a complaint”?
  • Don’t offer explanations or excuses for the conduct the employee is complaining about. You could be viewed as trivializing the complaint or questioning the employee’s honesty.
  • Don’t promise a particular end result. The company needs to investigate.
  • Don’t give advice to the employee.
  • Don’t forget to tell the employee to contact you or HR if the inappropriate behavior continues.
  • Other than human resources, don’t talk to anyone else about the allegations. Do not tell the person who is being accused. You could undermine an investigation, and doing so will be used against you if litigation is filed later.

You may have a hard time believing that discrimination or harassment could be happening within your group. Keep an open mind and treat every person who comes forward with dignity and respect. Don’t come to any conclusions until your investigation is complete.

As always, check with your HR department regarding their policies and practices.



1. Portions of this blog were extracted from an article by Deborah C. England (Nolo) and Barrie Gross | In: Women in Business





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