It is any manager’s worst nightmare: an employee comes to you with a problem, and states that another employee has illegally harassed him, and he wants to know what to do. It is up to a manager to know how to deal with allegations of harassment, and to respond accordingly.
First, there is a difference between illegal harassment and inappropriate conduct. A manager should know the difference when he or she hears it, and be able to deal with both instances. Even if the behavior of one employee is not considered illegal, it may still contradict company policy regarding acceptable behavior from employees.
Most large corporations offer training to managers which will teach them how to respond to allegations of harassment. However, even if your company does not offer any such training, it is imperative that you know how to deal with the situation.
Following is a step-by-step manager’s guide to allegations of harassment.
Allegations of Harassment Step #1: Make time to talk.
When an employee comes to you with allegations of harassment, you must make time to talk with that employee, no matter how busy you are. Setting aside your current task and taking the employee to a quite, private place is the best course of action. There, the employee can explain the situation in detail.
Allegations of Harassment Step #2: Get a written account.
No matter how thoroughly the employee has explained the situation to you, the manager, it is still imperative that you get his or her account of the events in writing. Have the employee sit down with a pad of paper and him or her write down the entire incident, including the events leading up to and following the incident.
Allegations of Harassment Step #3: Write your own observations.
On a separate sheet of paper, the manager should write down the incident as it was explained to him or her by the employee, and include any first-impression reactions. As the manager, you have probably also observed the employee’s interaction with the alleged harasser, so make any notations of inappropriate behavior that you have witnessed.
Allegations of Harassment Step #4: Explain the process.
Give the employee as much information as possible about the company’s policy on harassment. Explain that you will take his or her complaint to the appropriate party, and that a thorough investigation will be conducted on his or her behalf. Don’t promise confidentiality because you can’t promise that; discretion will be practiced, but some people will have to know.
Allegations of Harassment Step #5: Don’t try to explain away the problem.
It doesn’t how close you are to the employee who is accused of harassment; editorializing or explanations are not prudent here. Instead, validate the complaining employee’s concerns and explain that you will do your best to have the problem rectified. You will violate trust if you try to defend the harassing employee.
Allegations of Harassment Step #6: Keep Confidence
Although your human resources department will investigate the matter, you should keep the confidence of the employee, which means not spreading the story around the office. Do not confront the accused employee, and refuse to answer questions about the allegations from any third party.
Allegations of Harassment Step #7: Don’t make any promises.
Don’t make promises to the complaining employee that you cannot keep. For example, don’t say “I’ll make sure he’s fired”, because you have no way of knowing that he will be. Instead, tell the employee to contact human resources for any further inquiries.
Allegations of Harassment Step #8: Thank the employee.
As a manager, you want your employees to feel comfortable coming to you, and you should be pleased that the complaining employee felt comfortable taking you into his or her confidences. Tell the employee to come to you with any further problems or harassment.