The Dos and Don’ts of Handling Sexual Harassment Complaints in Your Business

Photo of manager yelling at the assistantMost small business owners often worry about potential sexual harassment complaints, and with good reason. Sexual harassment complaints in your business could lead to costly lawsuits and heavy penalties if you don’t deal with the complaint in the right way.

By handling the complaint in a serious and professional manner, you may be able to avoid these consequences. Continue below to learn the dos and don’ts for responding to a sexual harassment complaint.

How to Handle Sexual Harassment Complaints in Business

Do Investigate – Many business owners who receive a sexual harassment complaint feel they know everything about their business, and have a hard time believing that someone was being harassed without their knowing about it. Some of those employers will then ignore the complaint, assuming that there isn’t any truth to the claims.

Not taking the complaint seriously, ignoring it, and failing to start an investigation into the claims is almost guaranteed to get you sued. Make sure you keep an open mind, and investigate each claim, whether you believe it or not.

Don’t Announce It – If you make the complaint public, it could very easily divide your staff. They may begin making judgements and accusations. Work productivity will likely diminish, and you will have a plethora of new problems to deal with.

In addition, by revealing too much, you may be liable for defamation if the person you’re talking about feels their reputation has been damaged.

Do Write It Down – Even if you have perfect recall, it’s important that everything be written down. When you interview the people involved, keep very thorough notes. Keep copies of any emails you find or are brought to you. All of this written information will grow until you have a clearer picture of what may have happened.

If the complaint does become a lawsuit down the road, you will want to have as much information on paper as possible to strengthen your case.

Don’t Retaliate – No matter if you find that the harassment allegations are true or false, do not retaliate against the employee who filed the complaint. Workplace retaliation is a serious offense and can do irreparable harm to your business. There are many actions that you could take which may be seen as retaliation, including firing, cutting pay, demoting, or relocating an employee. Even subtler things such as changing the employee’s shift hours could get you in trouble.

Do Discipline the Offender – If you find out that there is truth to the allegations, you have to take appropriate action against the offender. Make sure the discipline fits the crime. You should probably fire an employee who committed particularly egregious offences like stalking, unwanted physical contact, making threats, etc. For less serious situations, such as misunderstandings, may be solved with a warning and/or counseling. After disciplining the offender, make sure to document your actions and promptly let the complaining employee know about it.

Sexual harassment complaints are very serious and very delicate issues. One wrong move, and you could face expensive lawsuits and huge penalties. Handling these complaints on your own is often ill-advised.

The Atlantic City business attorneys at Garland & Mason, LLC have years of experience dealing with a great deal of business and employment law issues, ranging from sexual harassment and workplace discrimination to business formation and mergers.


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