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Implementing an Internal Sexual Harassment Complaints Procedure

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  • 0:01 Sexual Complaint…
  • 0:20 Reporting Process
  • 2:06 Maintaining Confidentiality
  • 2:55 Investigation Procedures
  • 3:49 Making a Determination
  • 4:59 Immediate and…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

A sexual harassment policy isn't worth the paper it's printed on if there is not a mechanism to enforce it. In this lesson, you'll learn some key components of implementing a sexual harassment complaint procedure.

Sexual Complaint Procedure Defined

A necessary component of an effective sexual harassment policy is a complaint procedure that addresses the issues of reporting a claim of sexual harassment, investigation of the claim, and taking corrective action if the claim is established. Let's take a look at some of the key components of such a complaint procedure.

Reporting Process

No matter how detailed a sexual harassment policy may be, it will be completely ineffective if there is no effective means for victims to come forward for protection and corrective action. On the other hand, an effective sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure can significantly reduce an employer's risk of legal liability arising from workplace harassment.

An effective reporting procedure should be convenient, confidential, and safe. An employer should ensure all employees are aware of how to report harassment and encourage them to do so. Additionally, reporting should be convenient without any obstacles in the way.

While policy should outline the means of submitting a report, it should not be overly rigid in requiring only that procedure be followed. In other words, if an employee comes forward to report sexual harassment, the employer should commence an investigation regardless of whether the employee 'crossed the ts and dotted the is' on the appropriate form. In simpler terms, an employer should treat any communication of an allegation of sexual harassment as a report, whether or not technical procedures were followed. If the employer wants specific documentation in a specific form completed for the report, then it should provide assistance as part of addressing the report.

The reporting process should assure the reporter's safety from retaliation for making the report. If a reporter reasonably feels threatened by adverse employment action if a report is made, then the sexual harassment policy is ineffective and an employer increases its risk of legal liability arising from workplace sexual harassment. It's also important that there is an alternative means of reporting sexual harassment other than a person's supervisor in case the supervisor is the one engaging in sexual harassment.

Maintaining Confidentiality

Maintaining as much confidentiality as reasonably possible during the complaint process is also important. Confidentiality encourages victims, witnesses, and the alleged harasser to participate in the process by keeping it as private as possible. However, it is impossible to guarantee complete confidentiality because there is a need to interview witnesses and collect evidence during the investigation process that will run counter to complete confidentiality.

Nevertheless, dissemination of information should only be on a need-to-know basis, to people that absolutely need to know. These people generally will be the individuals directly involved in the complaint process, such as the alleged victim, alleged harasser, witnesses, investigators, and person charged with making a decision after the investigation is complete.

Investigation Procedures

Formal investigation procedures should be developed and employed upon receipt of a complaint of sexual harassment. Investigations should be promptly conducted. In fact, if the harasser admits the conduct as described by the victim, no further investigation may be warranted, which will help maintain the confidentiality and privacy of the parties involved.

If the alleged harasser denies the accusation of sexual harassment, then an objective, fact-finding investigation should commence and be undertaken by independent investigators with no personal or professional ties to either the alleged victim or the alleged harasser that may reasonably create bias. Moreover, the alleged victim and harasser should have no control over the investigator or the investigation. The investigator should also have experience, or at least training, in investigatory methods, including gathering and review of documents and interviewing of witnesses.

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