Responding appropriately to harassment complaints from employees

In recent years, harassment has become a hot-button issue at companies in California. Claims of unlawful harassment are made by females against males, males against females and by persons of the same gender. Employers must also be sensitive to, and address claims of harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and transgender.   California recognizes many protected statuses and claims of harassment involving any of those protected categories must be given equal attention.

Some businesses are better than others at tackling the issue and responding when complaints do arise.

Taking every complaint seriously

When someone makes a complaint alleging sexual harassment, or any other form of unlawful harassment, employers and managers must take the report seriously. Some ways to do this include:

  • Immediately informing Human Resources and/or upper management of the complaint
  • Don’t feel like you need to take care of the situation yourself—get assistance and input from Human Resources
  • Giving the person reporting misconduct respect and time to discuss their situation
  • Making a record of the complaint and the parties involved
  • Conducting a thorough investigation—Human Resources will take the lead on making sure this is done professionally
  • Minimizing unnecessary disruptions for workers
  • Speaking with witnesses
  • Keeping the complainant updated on any developments
  • Taking swift, fair action

When employers respond in this manner, they protect employees’ rights and also protect the employer. The sooner the issues are addressed the more likely the company will prevent unlawful harassment from becoming a widespread issue.

Further, these actions can effectively avoid lawsuits alleging an employer allowed or failed to stop illegal conduct.

Holding the right people accountable

Should an investigation reveal that parties have indeed engaged in unlawful harassment, holding the right people accountable is crucial.

Employers must be very careful not to retaliate against the person who made the complaint. Some employers punish one person but not everyone who played a role in misconduct, failing to address the situation fully.

In either case, employers can face the consequences, including lawsuits and bad publicity.

Employers can avoid similar situations by taking every complaint seriously and taking swift, appropriate action against all parties involved.