Despite our best efforts to provide a safe and discrimination free work environment, occasionally complaints of racial discrimination, gender discrimination, or sexual harassment will occur. When complaints are filed, it is vital that the HR staff respond immediately and appropriately to mediate the situation.
The use of racial slurs or sexist remarks in the workplace should fall under a zero tolerance policy that is clearly communicated to all employees. Similarly, sexually explicit comments, questions, jokes, displays of sexually explicit materials, or sexual advances and gestures should be equally forbidden. Every employee has the right to a safe and harassment free workplace, and no complaint should be seen as minor.
When employees come to their HR representative with complaints of discrimination or harassment, it is important that they are immediately assured that they will be protected from retaliation, and that an appropriate investigation will be conducted in a timely manner. The HR representative discussing the complaint should take care to listen attentively to the employee, take thorough notes including dates, times, and the names of potential witnesses, and to avoid allowing bias to cloud their view of the situation.
The next step is to discuss the situation with the employee being accused of harassment. While all complaints should be investigated thoroughly, it is important to give the same unbiased attention to the perspective of the accused individual. The situation may have been brought about by cultural differences or misunderstandings that can easily be solved. It is also important to remember that false accusations do exist and it is the job of the investigator to discover the truth.
If either party states that there are potential witnesses, these individuals should be interviewed immediately. While it is not always available, a great option is to review the security camera footage of the incident in question to help form a complete picture of events. In addition, it may be beneficial for all parties involved if all interviews with the employee filing the complaint, the employee being accused, any potential witnesses, and the HR staff conducting the investigation are recorded. This ensures that all parties are held accountable and the organization can remain confident that any disciplinary actions are valid.
Ultimately, the HR team responsible for the investigation must strive to thoroughly analyze all points of view involved. All disciplinary action must remain appropriate to the situation and within the boundaries of the law. In addition, the individual filing the complaint should be adequately protected from further incidents of harassment and any potential retaliatory actions from the aggressor or their sympathizers.
Regardless of what type of harassment is taking place, it is always important to take action. Both managers and employees alike may find themselves the victim of unwanted remarks or actions, and these individuals should be protected and supported. The zero-tolerance policy should be routinely sent out to all employees, and an organizational culture of safety and respect should be actively fostered. A company that takes care of its employees, even in awkward or uncomfortable situations, has a much greater chance of success.
Head of Training and Development
Originally published: 13 August, 2014
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