Practical Tips for Employers: Conducting Effective Sexual Harassment Investigations

Sexual harassment has never been more prominent in the headlines.  In recent weeks, hundreds of accusers, both men and women, have come forward with allegations against high-powered executives, elected officials and celebrities.  This trend does not appear to be slowing down and, in fact, appears to be gaining momentum.

From an employment law perspective, it is important to remember your obligations as an employer if you receive an internal complaint of harassment from an employee.  Federal law requires you to take prompt action to investigate the complaint and put a stop to any unlawful conduct.  While the headlines have focused on physical assault and inappropriate touchings, the workplace definition of sexual harassment is much more broad.  In fact, a single comment could constitute illegal harassment and subject your organization to legal liability.

It may not be feasible to hire outside counsel to investigate every harassment complaint.  In order to help protect your business, I want to share the attached Handbook that I wrote to assist Human Resources and management in conducting their own investigations.  It describes tips for interviewing the complaining employee, the alleged offender, and other witnesses, as well as obtaining evidence such as emails or texts messages and other evidentiary considerations.  The Handbook provides guidance on troubling “he-said/she-said” situations, reviews points to consider in choosing discipline, and advises employers on how to minimize retaliation risks.

The importance of reacting swiftly and strategically to an internal harassment complaint cannot be overstated.  If you have any questions or need any assistance, please feel free to reach out to me anytime.

How to Conduct a Sexual Harassment Investigation – 2017