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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.