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Ensuring Privacy in the Harassment Complaint Process

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  • 0:01 Complaint Policy &…
  • 0:21 Privacy for Victims &…
  • 1:50 Privacy Concerns of…
  • 2:27 Privacy Concerns of…
  • 3:03 Procedures to Ensure Privacy
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
One of the most important requirements of a sexual harassment policy is a confidential complaint process. In this lesson, you'll learn why privacy is important and how to help accomplish it. A short quiz follows.

Complaint Policy & Confidentiality

Claire has just been hired as the new human resources manager for a growing tech company. She is reviewing the company's sexual harassment policy, which outlines the rules and procedures relating to defining, reporting, investigating, and remedying sexual harassment. Claire was disturbed to find that it lacked any procedures to protect the privacy of all the individuals involved. Let's take a look at why she is rightly concerned.

Privacy for Victims & Witnesses

It shouldn't be a big surprise that privacy protects the interests of the alleged victim of sexual harassment. Claire knows that victims may not come forward if their complaints are made public. Sexual harassment often involves embarrassing situations and issues that are sensitive. Privacy protects victims from being embarrassed, ostracized, ridiculed, or even suffering retaliation for making a complaint.

Retaliation, for purposes of sexual harassment law, is any type of adverse action taken against an employee if the action is in response to a protected activity. Lodging a sexual harassment complaint and participating in the investigation as a witness are protected activities. Examples of retaliating include termination, denial of an otherwise warranted promotion, and demotion.

Claire also knows that witnesses involved in the investigation of the sexual harassment complaint must have their privacy protected for the same reasons as victims. Moreover, witnesses are often essential for a fair and reasonable determination of whether sexual harassment has occurred.

It's important to note that there may not only be witnesses that support the alleged victim's position but also witnesses that support the alleged harasser's position. While neither the alleged victim nor harasser necessarily has a right to confront witnesses, like in a court of law, they should be given the substance of what witnesses have said so that a response can be made.

Privacy Concerns of Alleged Harasser

Claire also knows that she needs to ensure that privacy of alleged harassers is protected as much as possible as well. As Claire knows, just because someone is accused of engaging in sexual harassment doesn't mean that the accusation is true. Sometimes the allegations are simply unfounded, and a public airing of an unfounded allegation may hurt an innocent employee's reputation and ability to effectively perform her job functions. For example, a manager that is falsely accused may find it difficult to maintain the respect and loyalty of his team.

Privacy Concerns of Organization

Claire also needs to protect the company, and she does this by making sure that the privacy of victims, witnesses, and alleged harassers are protected to the extent reasonably possible. Failure to protect privacy can expose the company to legal liability. The risk of retaliation can increase if the confidentiality of victims and witnesses are not respected and protected. Likewise, the company may be exposed to legal liability for defamation if it encourages or negligently permits the dissemination of information that hurts the reputation of an innocent employee who has been accused of sexual harassment.

Procedures to Ensure Privacy

Claire has a difficult job. She needs to balance the need to investigate a serious charge of sexual harassment whilst at the same time protecting all the participants' privacy as much as reasonably possible. Let's take a look at some procedures to help accomplish this goal.

Confidential reporting is an essential element for ensuring a good level of confidentiality. Procedures should be in place to ensure victims of sexual harassment have a private means of reporting harassment. It's also important to designate an individual to receive sexual harassment complaints other than the direct supervisors of employees in case the harasser is a supervisor. If a complaint of sexual harassment is made in person, the victim should be able to report it in a private and secure location, such as an office behind closed doors. A confidential phone line or a dedicated email address is also a good idea to ensure privacy of communication.

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