December 11, 2017

101: Harassment complaints

Though the recent turmoil with sexual harassment seems to be in the entertainment world, it's not an issue exclusive to any one workplace or industry. Employers have legal, ethical and employee-relations responsibilities to deal with such issues.

Lawyer contact: always and often. There is no stupid legal question when it comes to harassment issues in the workplace. It's always better to ask your company's legal team as opposed to acting independently or making assumptions. If you receive a complaint from an employee who is allegedly being harassed, get on the phone with legal counsel, says Suzanne Lucas at "You want to make sure all your i's are dotted and t's are crossed, and that you're in compliance with both federal and local laws … Document the heck out of everything."

Ensure complainants know they are protected.'s Susan M. Heathfield advises managers to take a deep breath after receiving a complaint of sexual harassment from one employee about another. Before initiating an investigation, let them know that their coming forward was the right thing to do, no matter the outcome. "Guarantee that he or she is safe from retaliation," said Heathfield. "Inform the employee that you need to know immediately about any retaliation, purported retaliation, or ongoing harassment the employee experiences."

Make sure directors are notified. The board of directors should be notified immediately – usually by the CEO with general counsel or outside counsel – about a sexual harassment claim. Lee Hermle of notes a board may be able to offer insight based on members' experience with other companies. "Additionally, board members hate to be surprised with bad news, especially if that news shows up in the media before they have heard about the claim," he said.


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