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How to Handle Post-harassment Formalities and Procedures

October 1, 1998
Related Topics: Harassment, Featured Article
After a sexual harassment complaint has been settled, the workplace still doesn’t return to normal. Should the harasser and harassee be separated, and how are their co-workers affected? Even outside of the work relationships, there is paperwork and further therapy to be considered. Monica Ballard, president of Santa Monica, California-based Parallax Education LLC answered questions about how to approach several post-harassment issues.

Must, or should, a company always separate an employee who claims harassment and his or her harasser after the event is investigated, regardless of the outcome? If so, how should that be handled?
There are no hard rules that would indicate that the harasser and harassee should be separated after a claim. I always recommend that the last question the investigator asks the harassee is "How would you like to see this situation resolved?" If the complainant requests that the two be separated, then that is a request that should be considered. It shows that the company responded by meeting the complainant’s requests.

Separating the harasser and harassee can lead to increased liability if the company moves the harassee (to protect him or her) and the move causes the harassee difficulty. This would surely be termed "retaliation" by a plaintiff’s attorney if the complainant files a lawsuit.

If others in the department are affected by the harassment, how should their questions be handled?
Training is a remarkable tool that can help return the workplace to calm and productivity. In a controlled environment, the company’s policies and procedures can be reinforced. This is extremely important in light of the recent Supreme Court decisions.

The employees can discuss concerns, open items and issues, and then return to the work environment reassured that the company took steps to show it will not tolerate sexual harassment.

What, if anything, should be entered in the employee files?
One of the requirements placed on human resource professionals as they complete an investigation is that they "come to a conclusion." That conclusion may vary from the one that harassment did occur to the conclusion that their investigation was "inconclusive."

My recommendation is that the final conclusion be placed in the employee files. This documentation creates a record that can either reveal patterns showing numerous accusations of harassment or numerous claims against others of harassing behavior.

The files establish a history for future human resource professionals, creates documentation that the company took appropriate steps, and can allow the future company agents to react appropriately.

Are there any guidelines on what employers do in terms of reimbursing post-harassment therapy?
If the company finds that harassment did occur, then providing EAP support to the harassee serves several purposes. It helps the harassee to deal with the upsetting situation, and helps him or her to be more productive at work.

Therapy also provides evidence that the company is taking proactive steps, and is "doing the right thing" to protect its employees. Whatever accommodations can be made for the employee at this time will provide enormous good will for the future.

What action should be taken if comments about the situation by those not directly affected or those involved continues?
One way to handle this situation is to have all people interviewed sign a document stating that if they talk about anything discussed in the meeting, they could be terminated. It is very heavy handed, but it keeps the post-investigation gossip to a minimum.

I explain in the investigation to the harassee, the harasser and all interviewees that everyone will sign the form. I believe it allows the participants to be very forthcoming, without fear of retaliation. However, one cannot promise confidentiality.

When should an employer comply (or not comply) with requests from the harassed, such as requests for new assignment, new hours or relocation?
It is always helpful to ask how the harassee would like to see the situation remedied. If he or she makes a specific request, and if the company can meet the request, it shows good will and that the company did everything possible to meet the harassee’s needs. However, one cannot always meet the requests of the harassee, and in each situation, creativity is important.

Workforce, October 1998, Vol. 77, No. 10, p. 57.

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