Complaints of Sexual Harassment

In early blog posts, I discussed how important it is for managers to be prepared for a sexual harassment complaint. In a second post, I talked about the negative impact that harassment can have on an individual. But never did I imagine the flood of complaints that would hit the media during late 2017.

Proactively, make sure you are aware of the protocol HR has put in place for reporting sexual harassment complaints. It’s important that you are familiar with your HR department’s policies and practices and the role and expectations of a manager should a complaint come directly to you.

If an employee comes to you to discuss a complaint of sexual harassment, make time to talk to the employee immediately. During that conversation, explain the company’s harassment policy, and also explain that you are NOT able to keep this information confidential and are required to notify HR or some other established entity that is part of the reporting process. Share the protocol with the employee and if possible and appropriate, immediately facilitate a connection to the correct resources. It’s important to extract yourself from the process and for the prescribed protocol to take over.

Things to remember:

The following are tips to assist you in the moments following an employee coming forward to you with a complaint. The HR process/protocol currently in place in your organization supersedes the following tips.

  • If an employee comes forth with a complaint, this becomes your top priority. Make the time and find a private place to talk with the employee.
  • Don’t promise the employee that the complaint will be kept confidential. Confidentiality is 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.
  • Let the employee share his or her perspective without interruption and take notes..
  • In your conversation and in your notes, don’t speculate or embellish what you heard the employee say. Give your notes to HR as soon as possible.
  • 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.
  • Always defer to HR or another designated entity if asked a question by the employee.
  • Other than HR, 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 could be used against you should litigation be filed later.

You may have a tough 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 make assumptions or come to any conclusions, let the company process play out.

As always, keep Human Resources informed and use your EAP for emotional support.


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