EMPLOYMENT

8 Tips for Investigating Sexual Harassment

President Trump declared April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Sexual harassment is a related problem that all employers must proactively address and prevent. While most labs, pathology practices and other health care employers are well aware of the need for sexual harassment policies, just having a policy isn’t enough. If sexual harassment allegations arise, you need to know how to appropriately respond. Your liability for sexual harassment is based not only on your policies and attitudes but on how you investigate complaints. To conduct a reasonable investigation the inquiry must be not just thorough but fair and account for the rights of both accuser and accused. Here are 8 potential mistakes your lab should be alert to and avoid making when conducting investigations of such allegations.

Mistake 1: Waiting too long to investigate
Mistake 2: Using investigator who isn’t objective
Mistake 3: Not getting both sides of story
Mistake 4: Not interviewing third parties
Mistake 5: Asking leading questions
Mistake 6: Interviewing witnesses in each other’s presence
Mistake 7: Not following your own procedures
Mistake 8: Not documenting investigation

Conclusion

Sooner or later, one of your employees is bound to complain about being sexually harassed by a co-worker. Such complaints are emotionally disturbing and expose your lab or pathology practice to serious legal risks. How you respond to the complaint has just as much impact on your liability as whether the complaint is actually true. The best way to protect your lab or pathology practice is to:

  • Recognize that overreacting to a sexual harassment complaint is just as dangerous as ignoring it;
  • Help management resist the temptation to “put out the fire” and rush to judgment;
  • Remind the decision makers that being accused doesn’t make an employee guilty of sexual harassment;
  • Have somebody objective and qualified thoroughly and fairly investigate if the accusation is true; and
  • Ensure that the investigation process accounts for the rights of not just the alleged victim but the accuser.

For more in depth discussion of these traps to avoid while investigating sexual harassment and other tips for handling these issues, see the April issue of G2 Compliance Advisor.

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