Responding to sexual harassment complaints 2

Part 1 on this subject (more details) dealt with outsourcing investigations, in responding sexual harassment complaints 2 I will outline a procedure that can be followed if as manager or HR professional you choose to conduct the investigation internally.

Investigations are conducted internally for a number of reasons including, cost, availability and internal processes and procedures.

This article provides an overview of how to conduct an internal investigation. Please note it is an overview only, conducting an investigation is a complex and often time consuming matter requiring a high level of expertise.

There are many procedural steps during an investigation that are not included here for the purpose of brevity.

Should you wish a complete guide for conducting workplace investigations I have created a comprehensive investigation toolbox contains 35 documents (including template letters, interview plans, sample reports) and an Investigation Interview Manual.

Complaints of sexual harassment

Generally complaints will be made either in person verbally or in writing, most commonly via email.

Step 1.

If the complaint is made in person, the first step is to obtain as much detail as possible from the complainant at the time of reporting.

If the complaint is made in writing or email, I recommend that you review the complaint and any other documentation, print it off and Identify and highlight areas where further information is required.

Identify areas where clarification of information is required, questions such as the who, what, what did they do, when, where, what was said, was anyone else present, if so who?

Step 2

Once you have reviewed the complaint it will be necessary to formally interview the complainant. 

This will require you to draft an interview plan that should include questions designed to have the complainant clarify when they meant when they used descriptive words such as sexually harassed, bullying, harassing, intimidated etc

You should also draft questions to have the complainant clarify words they may have used such as touched, looked, leered, yelled, shouted, angry etc and questions to ascertain the nature of the relationship of the parties prior to and during the incidents complained about

Complainants often use emotive language you must be sure what they actually mean.

You do not need to write out every question you are going to ask, the interview should be organic and led by the answers you receive to the key points you have identified.

Step 3

Interview the complainant. 

Investigative interviewing is a skill in itself and is far too detailed to go into here.  I have produced an interview manual that has been designed as a practical guide for workplace investigation interviewing.

The manual will assist you in preparing, conducting and reviewing the interview upon completion.

During the complainant interview you should be seeking as much further information as possible and the answers to the questions you have previously identified, clarifying as much information as possible

Step 4

Review all of the information (evidence) from the complainant.

Draw up a list of witnesses and potential witnesses. Witness will tend to support or refute the information provided by the complainant.

Draft the interview as you did for the complainant

Step 5

Interview the witnesses.

You should seek to obtain information that either corroborates or refute the complainant information.

Witnesses may also provide further information that leads to new avenues of enquiry.

Step 6

Review all the information you have. Identify any gaps in the information and what if any further information is required.

If warranted, draft a letter of allegation to be provided to the person subject of the complaint, the respondent.

The letter of allegation provided to the respondent must contain sufficient detail of the complaint to allow them to respond. This is a component of procedural fairness.

Step 7

Interview the respondent, allow them the opportunity to respond to the allegations and provide their side of the event/s. This is also a component of procedural fairness.

During the interview the respondent may nominate additional witnesses, these witnesses should be interviewed in the same manner as witnesses nominated by the complainant.

Step 8

Review and analyse all the evidence and make a finding as to whether the allegations have been substantiated or not or are unable to be substantiated.

Step 9

Report your findings in a clear manner.

Step 10

Advise the parties of the outcome of the investigation.

As I mentioned at the start, conducting an investigation is a complex and often time consuming matter. The AWPTI Investigation toolbox is a highly recommended resource for you to have if you intend to conduct investigations internally.

If is important to remember, if you are unsure consider calling in an expert.

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations





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