Harassment Investigations Require Objectivity

The following was published in CBS Small Business Pulse on June 26, 2015

 

woman-standing-on-table-as-businessman-scolds-herDavid Lewis is president, CEO and founder of OperationsInc, Connecticut’s largest human resources outsourcing and consulting firm. OperationsInc specializes in support for small to mid-sized businesses. Since it began in 2001, the firm has experienced steady growth, and now engages 50 plus human resource professionals in support of its base of over 1,000 clients. David has 28 years experience in human resources and operational management, including work for leading firms such as Merck-Medco and Computer Associates. OperationsInc offers comprehensive human resource consulting services, including harassment investigations. Lewis discusses this aspect of human resource management:


What measures should a small business owner take to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?

“The key is training on awareness and prevention, paired with a clear and updated policy that explains the issues, the process for addressing, and that is mirrored in action.”


Will an employer be held responsible for unlawful harassment that occurs within the business?

“In short, absolutely.”


What is the first step an employer should take when an employee charges a co-worker with sexual harassment?

“An investigation needs to occur, one that appears to be expertly managed and objectively executed. As such, it may be best to bring someone in from the outside versus trying to do so internally. Overall, HR or HR owners need to manage, and managers of those individuals who complain, need to step aside and let the investigator, not them, manage the investigation.”


If an employee is charged with harassment, and the charge appears to have merit, should an employer immediately take disciplinary action (suspension, dismissal) or, is it advisable to wait until an investigation has been completed?

“Get the facts. Assess. With proper expert counsel, the outcome usually is to terminate the offender, but is predicated on the extent of the issue and offense.”


Can you explain the benefits of bringing in an outside investigation service such as the one offered by your company?

“Objectivity is the key benefit, followed by expertly knowing how to go about an investigation. There is a very specific method for asking the questions, interviewing witnesses, and then advising the right path to take, all of which is a trained skill and often can be mishandled by a non-expert.”