Dealing with a Harassment Investigation

posted in: People, Policies 0

If an employee comes to you or any member of management with a claim of harassment, you need to act on it quickly.¬†Even if an employee requests that you don’t do anything about their complaint, you have a legal obligation to investigate it. Don’t wait a few days for the dust to settle or everyone to “get over it”. If the claim goes to court, you will have a much better defense if you dealt with the problem promptly.

First, call your lawyer. If yours is a general business lawyer, ask for a referral to a good employment attorney. If you don’t have one, this is a good time to find one immediately. Read the information in the EEOC’s site for a good overview of the process and how to go about an investigation.

Second, start the investigation promptly. If your business is large enough to have someone who can investigate with clear impartiality, that can be a good way to go; internal investigators know the environment and can act quickly. However, if you are too small for that, if the accused party is high up in the hierarchy, or if the claim looks particularly likely to go to court, an external investigator might be a better choice. You can choose from an attorney or someone with familiarity and experience with HR investigations. Don’t use your regular lawyer for this, as the investigator may be called upon to testify in court and that makes things complicated for you.

If you are doing the investigation in-house, the EEOC Guidance has lots of information on how to handle it, including lists of questions to ask the claimant, the accused, and witnesses.

In general, document everything. Work as quickly as possible while still making sure that all the evidence is looked at. Make this a top priority, because if it goes to court, it will suddenly become a much more expensive top priority.


Thanks to Amy Christensen for a great presentation!