Navigating sexual harassment claims in your small business

Sexual harassment claims are on the upswing in 2017, and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon. It’s not a matter of if a harassment claim is made, its when. Small businesses are expected to protect employees against sexual harassment as much as larger employers. If you fail to do so, it can lead to costly litigation and a bad reputation for your business.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate a harassment claim:

1) Investigate

Harassment investigations are necessary for many reasons, but the number one reason is of course- you need to determine if a claim has merit before reprimanding or firing the individual the claim is made against. On the other side of the coin, you need to determine the extent of the harassment and if any other employees are involved.
This is serious business, and the actions steps in an investigation shouldn’t be taken lightly.

2) You need a neutral party

If you feel uncomfortable conducting the investigation, consider hiring a third party. This is important because the investigation isn’t about picking a side, it’s about uncovering the truth about the situation. If you have a neutral investigator, they won’t have working relationships with the parties involved and will be much less likely to have a bias.
An investigation will require interviewing the parties involved and any witnesses. You may find better results if the employees can speak with a neutral party versus their boss. Employees may feel their job may be threatened if they report indemnifying information about another employee, especially if the person in question is someone of authority.
We recommend hiring an HR firm like interworksHR to do this. Leave it to the pros to make sure the right steps are taken and your business is protected.

3) Documentation

Make sure to have the claimant give you a detailed statement in writing. Give them a private area in the workplace to complete this. You will also need to take detailed notes of your interviews throughout the investigation (with alleged harasser and any potential witness). Collect any other written statements and any other forms, correspondence or evidence related to the complaint.
Keep this information in a separate file, labeled “Confidential”. This file should be stored away from the regular personnel files to limit access by other employees.

4) Don’t jump to conclusions

A course of action should only be made once the investigation is complete and all the facts have been gathered.

5) Keep it confidential

One reason why some employee’s are hesitant to report harassment complaints is because of the rumor mill. To prevent gossip in your workplace keep details of the claim as confidential as possible. Only share information that is absolutely relevant to the person you are interviewing, and make to explain the information you share is 100% confidential. If you find out employee’s have been gossiping about the harassment compliant, call them in for a meeting and request that they stop immediately.

For free a Harassment Investigation Checklist and Investigation Interview Form, email:

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