Ten Vital steps to deal with harassment claims

With sexual harassment and bullying high on the agenda at workplaces throughout Australia, it is vital for managers and HR professionals to follow strict procedures.

Complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination or bullying by an employee should be dealt with professionally and expeditiously.

Having conducted more than 100 independent investigations into workplace misconduct in my career, here are 10 important steps an employer should take when dealing with such complaints:

1. Gather information: Find out the specifics - times, dates, places and what actually happened.

2. Make detailed notes of what was said, done or implied.

3. Determine who was present when the alleged misconduct occurred.

4. Determine whether other similar behaviour has occurred - if so, how many times and when? Again, gather information and take detailed notes. 

5. Is there evidence to support the complaint? (Any notes, text messages, diary entries, emails, minutes from meetings?)

6. Ask the complainant to think about what has occurred over what timeframe.

7. Ask the complainant to make notes over a timeline of the behaviour they have witnessed or experienced. (A single incident, if serious enough can constitute bullying or sexual harassment as can a large number of seemingly minor incidents).

8. Determine the "affect" of the behaviour - this is most important. (How did the alleged misconduct make the staff member feel). This is a good barometer for judging how the matter should be handled - whether you take management action or instigate a full investigation. 
9. If an investigation is required, always use an independent investigator or outsource. The investigator should not have any personal or professional relationship with the parties involved. This will ensure natural justice and the perception of fairness for all employees.

10. Keep staff informed. Advise staff that misconduct claims are being investigated. This will prevent office rumour, which can be damaging to staff morale.