Navigating Harassment and Bullying Inquiries: Best Practices for Employers

November 15, 2023 Employment Law

For employers of all sizes, receiving a harassment or bullying complaint from an employee is a very serious matter. Harassment and bullying complaints trigger legal obligations for employers; and, from a human resources perspective, employers must address these complaints appropriately to maintain employees’ trust in the organization and preserve positive employer-employee relations.

7 Best Practices for Responding to Workplace Harassment and Bullying Complaints

With this in mind, when faced with harassment and bullying complaints, employers must take several steps—both to protect their employees and to protect themselves. Here are seven best practices (among others) that employers should follow:

  • Do Not Dismiss Any Inquiries or Complaints Out of Hand – Employers should never dismiss harassment and bullying complaints out of hand. All complaints need to be taken seriously regardless of the circumstances involved.
  • Do Not Make Any Assumptions – In this same vein, employers should not make any assumptions about the veracity of employees’ harassment and bullying inquiries. Employers need to make fact-based decisions focused on duly protecting the interests of all parties involved.
  • Follow the Company’s Documented Procedures for Conducting an Investigation – Making fact-based decisions requires a prompt and thorough investigation. To mitigate against the risk of facing charges of bias, employers should conduct their investigations in strict compliance with their documented policies and procedures.
  • Complete the Investigation as Efficiently as Possible – An efficient resolution will generally be in the best interests of all parties involved. Employers should complete their investigations as quickly as possible (while still ensuring that their investigations are sufficiently comprehensive).
  • Communicate the Outcome of the Investigation to the Affected Employee – After the investigation is complete, the outcome should be communicated to the affected employee. This must be done carefully and with due consideration for the legal and organizational risks involved.
  • Take Appropriate Disciplinary Action (if Any) – Employers should also take appropriate disciplinary action (if any) promptly upon completing their investigations. Depending on the circumstances, appropriate disciplinary action may range from a documented reprimand to termination of employment.
  • Promptly Address Any Lessons Learned – At the end of the process, employers should take the opportunity to learn from any lessons learned. What could (and should) the company have done differently? Making any necessary changes to the company’s policies and procedures now will help reduce its risks going forward.

Of course, as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states, “Prevention is the best tool to eliminate harassment in the workplace.” While employers must be prepared to respond to harassment and bullying complaints appropriately, they should also take appropriate steps to prevent harassment and bullying within their workforces. Here, too, clear policies and procedures are key, and employers should ensure that they have all of the tools they need to provide safe, respectful, and productive workplaces for their employees.

Contact Us to Learn More

If you need to know more about how to respond to (or prevent) workplace harassment and bullying, we invite you to get in touch. Please call 720-452-3300 or contact us online to arrange an initial consultation at AR Group.