Steps to Take if Sexual Harassment has Been Reported

Business Dispute Lawyer

Sexual harassment complaints can be incredibly troubling for not only the employee who has come forward, but also the business owner. For a business owner, it’s important to have knowledge of discrimination laws. Developing policies and procedures that outline steps to be taken when an employee comes forward with a complaint are necessary for any business. Failure to regularly consult with a business attorney, or to respond appropriately, can quickly escalate the complaint into a serious legal situation. If an employee has come forward, take these steps to help mitigate the risk of a sexual harassment complaint escalating into a serious lawsuit:

Step #1 Consult with Your Attorney

When an employee has come forward with sexual harassment claims, business owners should always consult with an attorney. Although a complaint doesn’t always require litigation, speaking with an attorney can help guide a business owner in taking the proper procedural actions when responding to claims.

Step #2 Listen to Complaints without Judgement

Although your mind may be reeling, it’s important that you take the time to carefully listen to complaints. Do not get defensive. Doing so may escalate the situation. An employee will likely be worried over a few things:

  • How their employment will be impacted
  • Whether they will be treated differently
  • That the harassment will not stop

As an employer, it’s important to gather the information and respond quickly to the complaint.

Step #3 Conduct an Investigation

In complaints involving larger companies, human resources may be the party to investigate the complaint. It’s important that the person conducting the investigation has the ability to remain impartial throughout the process before passing any judgement. In some cases, a business owner may even be able to hire an outside agency to conduct the investigation. The investigator will likely spend time: interviewing all parties involved, reviewing emails and other documentation, current company policies in place, and personnel files.

Step #4 Take Action

An investigation into sexual harassment claims can take time. It’s important to take action quickly to ensure that any mistreatment stops immediately. As a result, a business owner may need to make some tough decisions, including:

  • Putting the accused on leave until the investigation concludes and a determination is made.
  • Allowing the person who has come forward with complaints the ability to have paid time off.
  • Ensuring that the person who has been accused does not have any interactions with the person who has complained.
  • Reminding managers of policies surrounding discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

Once the investigation has been included, managers and business owners should take action quickly regarding the outcome. In the absence of policies surrounding sexual harassment, business owners should be diligent in developing clear policies. Having policies can help inform and prevent the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring in the future.

Avoiding Litigation

When sexual harassment claims are not managed appropriately by a business owner, the repercussions may result in litigation. Acting quickly and taking sexual harassment complaints very seriously can possibly prevent the risk of enduring litigation. When faced with a sexual harassment lawsuit, business owners should be especially concerned with protecting their assets. Sexual harassment is a violation of federal law. An employer may be held liable if the harassment or complaint results in retaliation against the employee who has complained.  

When business owners do not put proper HR policies in place, provide the proper training to employees and fail to respond appropriately, it’s possible to be held liable. If you are a business owner who has made missteps when faced with sexual harassment complaints, you may find yourself facing a lawsuit as a result. Contact a business dispute lawyer New York, NY trusts for the legal strategy, counsel and support you require to help during this troubling time.

Thank you to our friends and contributors at Okun, Oddo, and Babat, P.C. for their insight into business law and sexual harassment in the workplace.

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