In recent weeks, #metoo has become a trending topic on social media as more and more people are coming forward with their own stories of having been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused. In an employment context, managers and HR professionals should always be prepared to handle employee complaints or allegations of wrongdoing.

While victims of assault or abuse may remain quiet, recent events have emboldened many victims, helping them find the strength to share their own stories. If you become aware of allegations of sexual harassment or other misconduct, avoiding these four pitfalls can help protect your company:

  1. Not taking the allegations seriously. When a manager doesn’t take an employee’s allegations seriously or makes an independent judgment call that the incident(s) simply did not occur, he or she is unwittingly putting the company at risk. Every allegation needs to be treated with the same care and should follow the same investigatory process. It’s not for individual managers to be arbiters of truth.

  2. Doing nothing at the request of the alleged victim. If an employee raises a concern about having been the victim of harassment or assault by a co-worker or manager but doesn’t want you to take any action, don’t honor that request. His or her complaint should be handled in the same manner as any other complaint – regardless of the employee’s desire to keep the matter quiet. You can (and should) ensure the employee that information obtained during the investigation will only be shared on a need-to-know basis and that the company’s documented complaint-handling procedures will be followed. However, never promise complete confidentiality or that no action will be taken.

  3. Handling the matter without involving HR. Sometimes, managers who become aware of employee complaints make an assumption that the matter is simply too trivial to bother the human resources department with.

  4. Trying to handle the complaint too quickly. Investigations should be handled promptly. However, don’t speed to wrap up the matter at the expense of conducting a thorough investigation.

Employees who have been the victims of perceived harassment or unwanted attention want to be heard, and they have a right to have their complaints aired. Handling employee complaints professionally, promptly, confidentially and consistently can help protect your company from being subject to retaliation claims or escalated damages.

For help making sure your complaint-handling policies and procedures are adequate and up-to-date, contact investigatory professionals or legal counsel.

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