ClickCease //
Watch content from other countries

Sexual harassment investigations in the workplace | CASE STUDY: from first steps to termination

What should employers do when they receive allegations of sexual harassment? After #metoo, it’s more important than ever deal with these sort of allegations properly. Our case study takes you through the important stages of an investigation into sexual harassment in the workplace.

INTRODUCTION TO THE CASE STUDY

Imagine this: you are the HR Director of an events company. You arrive in work on a Monday morning to an email about Adrian Peters (an employee and member of your leadership team) and Jonny Diamond (a well-known musician with whom the company has worked for a number of years).

The email is co-written by 5 women and makes a number of allegations of harassment. How do you deal with it?

FIRST STEPS IN AN INVESTIGATION INTO HARASSMENT AT WORK

People within the workforce will have competing priorities. Some will want to protect the business’s reputation. Others will want to ensure that wrongdoers face appropriate action.

There aren’t any right answers, but it’s critical that you decide upon a strategy. Who will be involved? Who will you need to interview? Do you need to contact your insurers?

PLANNING AN INVESTIGATION

You need to move quickly once you have received the complaint. As this case is likely to be a large investigation (because there are several complainants, many witness and multiple alleged wrongdoers), deciding the scope is critical.

Do you want to interview only some of the complainants and witnesses, rather than all of them? Should Adrian be suspended?

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS IN AN INVESTIGATION

When questioning someone involved in a case of sexual harassment, it is important to adopt a neutral manner throughout (even if there is there compelling documentary evidence).

Try to start with open questions, allowing people time to talk and give as much information as they are able. Closed questions can appear confrontational and aggressive, and are unlikely to help you get all the facts. More specific questions can be used as follow up.

CONFIDENTIALITY IN INVESTIGATIONS

If the allegations relate to things that have happened one-on-one, it is very difficult not to identify the individual. But if the sexual harassment allegations relate to things that happened in a group scenario (with potentially a lot of witnesses), it may not be necessary to reveal the names of the complainants.

It is important to be clear with the women making the complaints and any witnesses how the information will be used and particularly that it may not be possible to guarantee anonymity.

COMMON MISTAKES IN A SEXUAL HARASSMENT INVESTIGATION

What are the common mistakes that those investigating allegations of sexual harassment can face?

TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT AND SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS

It’s hard to cover every scenario because each will depend on what is found in the investigation. We’ve set out how to deal with some common situations.

DIFFERENT WAYS HARASSMENT AT WORK CONCERNS CAN BE RAISED

Senior staff need to be trained to recognise when a concern is being raised and escalate it appropriately – there is a much greater risk of reputational damage if concerns are not addressed.

You should also train senior staff on how to deal with a situation where an employee raises something too serious to ignore but is insisting on confidentiality.

Show more