5 Rules of Thumb to Handle a Sexual Harassment Complaint

March 10, 2018 | 2528 Views

5 Rules of Thumb to Handle a Sexual Harassment Complaint

Cindy Bates, PHR, CHT

Director of Training | The Common Man Family Restaurants

As a training department that oversees HR as well, the impact on our culture of recent multiple sexual harassment claims and the #metoo movement have brought the subject to the forefront. Managers are concerned that they will not respond appropriately to a claim and potentially fail the needs of the employee or the legal obligation of the company. We make it very clear during the training of all our Managers in Training (MITs) that the worst thing we can ever do when faced with a complaint is to do nothing. A few rules of thumb we use to help them navigate are: 

  1. A written policy in our handbook on expectations of our employees’ behavior and what is considered inappropriate. We clearly define the consequences for such behavior. This is gone over with every employee at orientation and a signed copy of the acknowledgment is kept on file. We also have a seminar “Harassment in Hospitality” that I teach that every employee must attend and must have a signed acknowledgement of our policy and attendance on file.
  2. Never agree to keep an employee’s complaint confidential. Let them know up front that if they tell you something that creates a concern for them, their co-workers, or the company, you have an obligation to act upon it. You can keep it as confidential as possible, but you will need to speak with those involved in the incidents, witnesses, and possibly their managers.
  3. To separate when an individual is making a complaint vs. venting about a co-worker, ask them to put their complaint in writing. This will usually separate the two and will give you a written document to start the investigation process.
  4. Give them multiple ways to report their complaint in case going to their supervisor is not possible. We have an 800 hotline number they can call and they also can report directly to HR. This number is listed in the employee handbook, is posted on all facility bulletin boards, and on their paycheck stub. They can also email the HR department directly and receive a call within 48 hours or less.
  5. Separate the individuals until the investigation is complete. Once a complaint has been reported, anything that occurs that escalates the incident between the individuals can be held against the company. If no fault is found you may have to pay one or both individuals for time lost, but it is much better than facing a lawsuit for not separating them and having the incident escalate.

These types of complaints are often complicated and time consuming. While we might not always have the ability to resolve the issue immediately, make sure your employees know you are listening and that you care and that the company will do what is necessary to investigate and resolve the issue in a manner that is fair to all involved.

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