Workplace harassment can spiral into legal claims, lost time, reduced productivity and poor morale. In worst case scenarios, it can escalate into violent conduct. Senior management has the highest level of responsibility to make sure that the workplace is safe, both physically and emotionally.
First of all, managers should keep an open mind. Don’t jump to a conclusion that the alleged victim or harasser is guilty. You may be surprised that what you thought was accurate, is not. We speak with many employers and we frequently hear that after investigating a complaint, they found that their initial judgment was inaccurate. You have a duty to investigate. That means interviewing the complainant and alleged ‘bully’, as well as researching with other employees. Be sure to create an Incident Report in which you will document each interview and finding. Keep a record of emails or texts that demonstrate what may have taken place, or not.
Seek legal advice. Employment lawyers specialize in this field and will offer insights into how you can best investigate, document, and action what has transpired. If your findings lead to disciplinary action, to put an employee on leave, or to terminate, you will be best served by obtaining legal advice. The cost will be minimal compared to the consequences of a wrongful termination. You will likely wish to undertake internal training for all employees to be sure they understand their roles and responsibilities as it relates to maintaining a safe workplace.
Be very specific about what behaviours and language are appropriate (and not) to your particular workplace. If you have resolved the matter of harassment and things are business as usual, you will want to monitor and follow-up, remaining engaged with the issue. You need to be sure it doesn’t rear its head again.
Definition of Harassment (As Per OSHA) “Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
The employee would want to have clear evidence of harassment in the form of dates and precise incidents. The employee would address the matter with the most senior member of the HR team
and another senior manager.
Again, the employee should have strong documentation of the incidents, ideally including witnesses’ names, if any. The employee would address the matter with the most senior person in HR if it’s not the same person as the alleged harasser, and the most senior manager if there is a sense that HR will not be able to investigate their own team member.