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How to investigate harassment claims internally

There are few times when your business will face a major crisis. The way your business responds can greatly impact your reputation with your employees and the public. These moments may present you with the most stressful business decisions you will ever have to make. Harassment claims are one of those times.

The way in which you approach the situation will reflect on you as a business owner as well as an employer. When an employee or client alerts you to a possible issue, whether it is verbal, discriminatory, violent or sexual in nature, you have a duty to investigate.

You might find yourself caught between two outcomes. If the claim is true, you could lose a skilled worker or face criticism of your workplace culture. Even so, you are responsible for maintaining a safe environment. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides a list of steps to help you carry out a fair investigation.

SHRM suggests that your immediate response should address the alleger’s safety. First, offer reasonable temporary protection and confidentiality. Avoid taking action that the alleger could consider retaliation.

Next, you can appoint an impartial investigator. SHRM recommends a few options, such as your employment litigation attorney, human resources manager or a panel of appropriate employees. While selecting an investigator, you should ensure that they have no predisposition to favor either party. They should also have the social skills required to manage this delicate situation.

Your investigator will then interview both the alleger and the employee under scrutiny. They will also seek witness testimony and collect evidence if possible to obtain the clearest picture of the situation possible. Once your investigator presents the facts with their opinion, you will ultimately decide what to do next.

Internal investigations are not the same as a lawsuit or criminal trial, but they do require a similar conscientiousness. Lawyers at Bromberg Rosenthal LLC are prepared to serve as investigators or advisers during this critical point.

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