Harassment Investigations: What Comes Next?

harassment investigations what comes next

With the rise of #metoo and #timesup, HR offices are ensuring more and better training to staff on harassment and what do to if you are harassed, or see harassment. With more training comes more complaints, which is good. It’s what you want. You want people to report harassment. We talk a lot about this as HR professionals. We talk about how to create a process to allow staff to report, how to conduct an investigation, and what to do when you have a “finding” (when you decide that the person reporting – “the complainant” – was harassed). What we don’t talk a lot about is what to do if there isn’t a finding. Because if there isn’t a finding, it doesn’t mean that everything is A-okay.

Getting to the Bottom of the Complaint

There’s a reason the employee reported a concern. And that concern doesn’t just go away because you send them a letter full of legalese stating there was no harassment. Does that employee really understand why what happened wasn’t harassment? Perhaps the training wasn’t clear as to what you as an organization define as harassment. Perhaps the employee’s complaint is minor, but they don’t feel comfortable going to their supervisor (or higher) in their department to address the concern. Perhaps the behavior doesn’t reach the level of harassment, but is either walking a fine line or the perpetrator is an “equal-opportunity” bully. In all of these cases, there is a lot of work do to after the investigation.

What to Do if Training Was Unclear

Perhaps your training didn’t provide clear direction on how your organization defines harassment. Was the training designed specifically for your organization or did you get something “off the shelf” to save a few bucks? Talk with the employee to determine why they thought the behavior was harassment. Find out where the breakdown happened and help them understand what harassment is. Then review your training. Take the training yourself (especially if it is an online training). Ask people outside your organization to take the training and give you feedback. Can they define harassment after they take your training?

How to Build Trust with Department Leadership

This is a little trickier and is going to take a lot longer to solve. This is leadership training and coaching. You need to find out why staff don’t feel comfortable approaching leadership. You will want to be sure to talk to more people in the department to determine if it is just this one employee or an overall feeling within the department.  This will help you decide if the situation involves all leaders or just one. I would still recommend training and coaching for all leaders within the department.

It’s also a good idea to do some team building within the department to increase the trust across all levels. For an employee to take a minor issue to HR for investigation shows that trust is missing. We need to help the department rebuild the trust and hold them accountable for building the trust within their department.

The Bully Solution: Stop Accommodating Them

I feel that this issue is just now, finally, starting to be addressed. For a long time, we wouldn’t do anything about bullying because bullying isn’t against the law. We use the legal definition of harassment, which doesn’t account for someone being a bully, as long as they are treating everyone poorly. We need to hold our staff to a higher standard. We need to ensure that all staff are treated as professionals and stop hiding behind what is legal.

HR’s Overall Responsibilities

Our responsibility with harassment doesn’t end with the investigation. Just because there is no harassment doesn’t mean there isn’t an issue that needs to be addressed. We need to be sure we find the underlying issues that led to the complaint and help the department or leader rebuild the trust and team.

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Wendy Dailey

Wendy Dailey is the HR Business Partner for the Facilities & Services department at SD State University. With almost 20 years of experience in human resources, she assists the department in all their human resources needs, coordinates the training and oversees the IT requirements. She has worked in a wide variety of industries as a certified HR professional, including the airlines, banking and healthcare. Wendy is active in her local SHRM group and brought DisruptHR to the Brookings, SD area. Wendy has a BA from the University of South Dakota. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, leading her daughters’ Girl Scout troops and connecting with other HR professionals on Twitter, @wyndall93 or through her personal blog mydaileyjourney.blogspot.com.


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