Employees facing sexual harassment are often confused about what steps to take to complain and stop the harasser. They also frequently do not know how to deal with management once it becomes involved in the matter. The following should assist employees cope with the situation and bring the matter to a successful resolution.
- What is Sexual Harassment and/or Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment occurs when a person is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to such an extent that it alters the conditions of the person's employment or creates an abusive working environment. Read more. . .
- Communicate That the Offensive Conduct Should Cease Immediately
The victim should tell the harasser in no uncertain terms that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop immediately. The offensive behavior is creating a hostile work environment. The victim should be specific about the conduct that is offensive. The harasser should also be made aware that a formal complaint to HR will follow if the conduct does not cease.
- Locate and Review the Employer’s Sexual Harassment Policy.
If the victim does not have a copy of the sexual harassment policy, he/she should ask someone in HR for a copy. If no harassment policy is in place, speak to someone in HR to determine to whom a sexual harassment complaint should be lodged. Most sexual harassment policies contain a specific complaint procedures. Some employment handbooks also contain an employer’s sexual harassment policy and complaint procedures.
- Complain Using the Channels in Policy or Handbook
A complaint should follow the reporting procedures provided in the employer’s sexual harassment policy or employment handbook. If the policy calls for sexual harassment complaints to be directed to someone in the employee's chain of command and the harasser is also in the employee’s chain of command, the victim should also complain to someone outside the chain, such as HR, to ensure that action is taken on the complaint. This also helps minimize the prospect of possible retaliation by the alleged harasser who is over the victim in rank.
- Detailed Complaint in Writing When Possible With Specifics
When complaining to management, it is advisable to put the complaint in writing. The complaint should also provide as much detail as possible such as names, times, dates, actual comments and those present when comments were made. A detailed complaint in writing with specifics is more likely to be taken seriously by management. It also creates a record that is likely more accurate since it is done when memories of the events are fresh in the mind of the victim.
- Formal Investigation by Employer
After management receives the complaint, it is likely to commence a formal investigation of the complaint. Many employers will suspend the harasser with pay or transfer him pending an investigation of the allegations. This ensures that the alleged harasser does not attempt to influence witnesses or retaliate against the victim.
- Cooperate With Employer’s Investigation
It is important that the employee-victim cooperate with management’s investigation of the allegations. The victim should be prepare to meet with and provide the specifics of the misconduct, identifying witnesses and answering any questions that management asks in an attempt to complete the investigation. A good and thorough investigation is usually prompt and completed within a few days with discipline issued to the harasser if the allegations are found to be true.
- Keep Matters Confidential To Extent Possible
During an employer’s investigation, other employees frequently start discussing the allegations and have questions for the victim as well as the harasser. It is important to keep the facts confidential to the extent possible so as not to interfere with the investigation or make statements that would later become problematic or may seem threatening to other employees. The investigation should be completed by the employer in an orderly manner without interference.
- No Undesirable Transfer or Reassignment
Victims should be open to a transfer or reassignment so long as it does not place the victim in a worse situation than before the complaint. Many employers transfer or demote the harasser as a form of discipline or to separate him from the victim. Where a victim is transferred or moved to a worse position, he/she should clearly communicate that the transfer or reassignment is undesirable so that the employer is aware of such. Specific facts that make the transfer undesirable should be communicated to the employer.