Handling Harassment Claims

October 13, 2022

One of the most important tasks undertaken by a Human Resources professional is handling harassment claims. Chances are, if you spend even a short time in the human resources role, you will encounter a harassment claim. The first task undertaken will likely be determining whether the individual alleging harassment is using the term to describe unfair treatment because of the employee’s protected status, such as race, color, creed, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy-related conditions), sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, transgender status, religion, age, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, disability, honorably discharged veteran or military status, marital status, families with children, genetic information, use of a trained service animal or dog guide, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C status, or any other basis protected by local, state or federal law, or as shorthand to describe a personality conflict with a co-worker or supervisor. 

While unfair treatment based upon a protected status may carry legal liability, bullying, personality conflicts, and generally perceived unfair treatment can take a toll on employee morale, violate handbook policies, and be destructive to company culture. Accordingly, even if not required by the law, Human Resources should follow up on these complaints, investigate if appropriate and take necessary action to remedy any problems or deviations from handbook policies.

Allegations of unlawful harassment based upon an individual’s protected status, however, result in obligations under the law, including quick action by human resources, investigation of the claims, and implementing steps to immediately protect a victim from further harassment or retaliation. Quick action does not mean unplanned, non-intentional, or erratic action. Instead, it means that those in Human Resources should proceed thoughtfully and pursuant to an established plan for how allegations of unlawful harassment are handled. Such a plan should include training supervisors and managers to recognize unlawful conduct and expectations for receiving complaints of unlawful harassment, designating individuals to investigate and collect relevant information regarding allegations of harassment, plan for communicating results of investigations to appropriate individuals, and authority to enforce policies and implement appropriate discipline, when appropriate. Organizations should offer regular unlawful harassment and discrimination training to employees, supervisors, managers, and HR staff defining harassment and outlining appropriate steps to recognize and report such conduct.

With appropriate training and a thoughtful plan for handling allegations of harassment, organizations can meet their obligations under the law, mitigate any damages, and support their employees.  Associated Industries offers unlawful harassment and discrimination training for employees, supervisors, and managers, which is customized to your organization. 

If you are interested in a custom Unlawful Harassment & Discrimination training, please contact our training program manager Allison Cubberley at training@aiin.com