Employers: How to Respond to Reports of Sexual Harassment

California employers are struggling to create and maintain a safe, healthy and productive workplace. It involves hiring the right people, establishing an appropriate culture and balancing legal compliance with the cost of instituting the necessary safeguards.

Indeed, despite all the work that employers might put into creating a positive workplace for employees, it can all be overshadowed by alleged sexual harassment or sexual abuse. In situations where an employee or employees are reporting harassment, there are some crucial steps employers should take to respond to a harassment claim.

1. Take the Complaint Seriously. Every employer, supervisor and manager should know to take complaints seriously. Dismissing or minimizing them out of hand can ultimately lead to a lawsuit. You should speak with the alleged victim and assure them that they will not face retaliation and that you will investigate to make sure all your employees are in a safe environment.

2. Investigate the Claim. Make an earnest effort to immediately investigate the complaint. This typically involves interviews with the alleged harasser and witnesses. The investigation should be thorough and unbiased. If you don’t feel you can conduct such an investigation yourself, or if it involves you or someone close to you, there are law firms, investigation companies and human resource companies who perform this type of investigation.

3. Take Appropriate Action. Depending on the results of the investigation, take appropriate action. The action you take should be lawful and reasonable to avoid additional complaints and possible legal claims. Options could include adjusting work assignments or settings, disciplining and possibly terminating the harasser. NOTE: This, too, must be done in a legally permissible manner to avoid a wrongful termination claim by the alleged wrongdoer.

4. Fully Document the Investigation & Remedial Action Taken.Keep track of all emails, notes and other documentation you generated and collected throughout the course of the investigation. This can provide critical protection to the company should future claims arise, and it can serve as evidence of your efforts if anyone challenges the actions you took or did not take.

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