Harassment has been in the news a lot lately. How a company responds to an employee complaint is critical. If your company receives a complaint, here are some things you should never say:

  1. I will keep what you tell me completely confidential. No you won’t. You’ll keep it as confidential as circumstances allow. You’ll only disclose information on a need-to-know basis. But you can’t conduct an effective investigation without telling the accused what the complainant said and vice versa.
  2. I’m really busy now. Can we talk about this in a couple days? A good plaintiff’s attorney will hang you with a comment like that. You might as well say, “Preventing harassment isn’t really a big priority for this organization.”
  3. Because of privacy concerns, I can’t tell you what steps we’re taking. You should inform the complaining witness of what steps you’re taking throughout the investigation. They have a right to know. Also, you don’t want them concluding that they need to go talk to a lawyer to get the company’s attention.

    Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo
    Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo
  4. To protect you from retaliation, we’ll move you to this different department/shift/location. That’s not protecting someone from retaliation. That IS retaliation.
  5. It’s “he said/she said,” so we can’t do anything. Most harassment complaints involve one person’s word against another. That doesn’t absolve the company of its duty to weigh the facts and make a conclusion.
  6. I’ll do the investigation myself. How hard can it be? When you see a giant harassment verdict, it usually has more to do with what the employer did in response to the complaint than what the accused harasser did. If the complaining witness brings a claim, every step of the investigation will be scrutinized. That’s why a prompt, fair, thorough investigation is the best way for an employer to protect itself once issues arise.