Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Harassment investigations save money, supervisor training a key factor

Conducting effective investigations into workplace harassment and properly training supervisors how to handle investigations can save employers costly legal fees in the long run, according to a recent SHRM article.

William Tamayo, an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gave advice on the right way to handle workplace harassment complaints at the American Bar Association Section of Labor and Employment Law, Employment Rights and Responsibilities Committee on April 2.

If an employer promptly investigates a claim and attempts to correct the harassment issue, employers may be able to minimize damages and even escape liability, Tamayo said, noting two past Supreme Court cases.

The first “line of defense” for employers is to have an up-to-date workplace policy against harassment of any kind, Tamayo advised. Also, businesses should have clear procedures for harassment complaints and every supervisor must be trained on the steps to take after receiving a harassment complaint or witnessing workplace harassment.

With a managerial promotion, every employee should be trained on anti-harassment laws and their responsibility as a supervisor under those laws, including how to report a compliant to HR.

Lack of resources is not an excuse for a delayed investigation, he said, reminding everyone that the cost of an investigation is far less than the legal fees and damages associated with a court case.

The attorney's tips on conducting workplace harassment investigations:
  • An investigation should begin immediately or within the first few days following the harassment complaint.
  • The HR person investigating harassment claims must be independent and unbiased, with a clear goal to uncover the truth.
  • All records of the investigation should be kept completely confidential and filed in a different location than other corporate records.
  • At the end of the investigation, it turns out the harassment claims are legitimate, the company should take all the necessary steps to prevent it from happening in the future.

If an employee does choose to sue the company, the investigation was not in vain.

“The investigation can win the case,” Tamayo said.

Read the full article.

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