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Reporting on Sexual Harassment

3 Steps for Supervisors Responding to a Sexual Harassment Complaint

Reports of sexual harassment are on the rise as people feel more empowered than ever to fight it. Employees who experience harassment at work usually turn to their supervisors for guidance and to report that there’s an issue. If you’re a supervisor in the uncomfortable position of receiving a sexual harassment complaint, you might not know the best way to respond to the complaint or the steps needed to handle the matter correctly. 

At The Davidovich Law Firm, some of our clients turn to us with questions about addressing sexual harassment. Not everyone who works with us is an employee looking to file a complaint against their employer. In fact, employers may also seek legal help, particularly when it’s their first time dealing with an employee who claims they were sexually harassed. Sometimes, when employers wait too long to seek legal counsel, it can make the complaint more challenging to resolve. This is especially true when supervisors have already taken misguided actions against the accuser.

If you’re a supervisor looking to take the proper measures to address a sexual harassment complaint, you should understand what you’re required to do by law. You should also reserve your judgment, even if you’re in charge of completing or assigning the investigation into the allegations against an employee.

How a Sexual Harassment Complaint Could Hurt Your Company

A sexual harassment allegation is a big deal. Employers know that, if word gets out about sexual harassment at their company, it could damage their reputation among their employees and the public. Sexual harassment complaints have marred the careers of many people in positions of influence, and if you’re a high-level employee, you’ll want to do what you can to keep the matter private and under control.

Complaints of sexual harassment can open up a path to a lawsuit, which is why it’s imperative to take the right steps as soon as you learn of the alleged harassment. Ultimately, a complaint of this nature could lead to the loss of one or more valuable employees. Just one complaint could be the first in a string of complaints, and you might just discover that others are also experiencing harassment under your watch. It’s best to be prepared for any and all possible outcomes.

Responding to a Sexual Harassment Complaint in Colorado

Listen Carefully to the Accuser

The first thing you should do if an employee approaches you with a sexual harassment complaint is to listen to what she has to say. Be sure to meet in a secure location and that you won’t be interrupted. Listen carefully to the details of the employee’s story, and note the ways in which he or she claims to have been harmed. Also, consider the employee’s fear of retaliation or future punishment for reporting the harassment. It’s not rare for employees who report sexual harassment to face demotion, job loss, or heightened harassment although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explicitly prohibits this.

If you must ask questions, do so only with the intent to understand the complaint fully so you can report it up the chain of command. If your employee wishes to disclose the whole story of their experience with sexual harassment at your company, take notes of key information such as dates, times, examples of hurtful conduct, and witnesses.

Gain the Employee’s Trust

After hearing the employee’s story, you must reserve judgment. Whether or not you believe the individual, it’s vital for them to believe that you will do everything you can to address the issue the way the law states you should. Assure the employee that your company will investigate their complaint thoroughly, and that he or she will be protected against retaliation. Alert the employee that, at this point in the matter, the story is between the two of you and that it’s in their best interest to keep it that way. Caution the employee against discussing the allegations with anyone else, particularly the alleged harasser.

Report the Sexual Harassment Complaint to Your Supervisor ASAP

Regardless of your position with the company, if you’re a supervisor to the employee who reported the harassment, it’s your duty to report it to your higher-up or the next management level. Do not report the matter to the alleged harasser if he or she is your supervisor; rather, take the matter up with human resources. 

When you report the complaint to human resources, your employer, who has a legal obligation to investigate the allegation, should be pressured to carry out that obligation. Generally, the top-level management or human resources department must launch an in-house investigation into the complaint. 

If your company has not set any procedures for addressing sexual harassment complaints, or you lack a human resources department, protect yourself and the employee by reporting the matter to the CEO or owner of the company directly. Urge a prompt investigation and be sure the top-level management is aware that they’re legally obliged to investigate.

Address Sexual Harassment Allegations the Right Way

If you have any questions about what you’re required to do in this situation legally, you can trust The Davidovich Law Firm to guide you through the best course of action. For more than 55 years, attorney Nathan Davidovich has provided competent and reliable legal counsel to employers in Colorado. He can make sure that you’re protected during this uncertain time. Call for a consultation or complete our contact form.