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Do These 8 Things Immediately When an Employee Reports Harassment

The #MeToo movement has required all brands to look within their corporate culture and be prepared for whistleblowing.

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BY Darren Heitner - 11 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The attention paid to Nike's workplace environment has not gone away since May 7, when I wrote about 4 lessons on how to handle complaints about toxic culture based on actions by Nike CEO Mark Parker. Since then, 5 additional executives have left the company, bringing the number of exits since claims of sexual harassment arose to a total of 12 people.

There is no questioning the power of the #MeToo movement, which has required all brands to look within their corporate culture and change as necessary to be in front of sexual discrimination issues. Interested in learning more about best practices for business owners to think about in this period of heightened attention to workplace environments, I spoke with HR Acuity CEO Deb Muller on what businesses and managers can do and should do immediately following a report of a #metoo moment at work.

1. Respond quickly.

After an employee submits a complaint, someone should meet with him/her promptly, and no more than after a few days! The meeting should take place in a private place to ensure that the complainant feels comfortable sharing all of the facts. Optimally, the meeting is in person, but if that's impossible then a prompt telephone interview at least affords the opportunity to connect and hear the concerns in a timely manner.

2. Show empathy, not sympathy.

The employee bringing forth the allegation must feel as if you are listening and will take the issue seriously. That is difficult to accomplish with the complainant gets emotional while sharing the details of what allegedly occurred. Its ok to empathize with the employee, indicating that you understand how he/she is feeling, but explain that the investigation is to determine the facts and, in order to do that, additional steps in the process must take place before any conclusions can be reached.

3. Ask for lots of details during the interviews.

Ask things like, "Did you tell anyone about the incident before reporting it? Were there any witnesses? Do you have any electronic or other records related to the situation?" Don't assume something you're told isn't relevant.

4. Ask how you can help.

Some organizations have resources that provide support like an Employee Assistance Program (also known as an EAP) to employees who bring forth an allegation, and for those who are alleged to have engaged in wrongdoing. The employee may struggle or feel uncomfortable in the work environment during the investigation, and there may be interim actions that can be implemented to alleviate that stress.

5. Explain your organization's non-retaliation policy.

Be clear that your organization takes retaliation seriously and that it won't be tolerated under any circumstances. Most importantly, make sure the involved employees know what to do if someone if they believe that they are being retaliated against.

6. Maintain neutrality.

If you feel that the circumstances make it implausible that you can remain neutral, then find someone else in the organization who can conduct the investigation.

7. Be thorough, but stay in touch.

Jumping into an investigation too quickly can harm its integrity, and rushing through the steps may cause it to be incomplete. Bottom-line is that a thorough investigation can't be accomplished overnight. It takes time to interview all the involved parties. Since the wait can be frustrating, it is important to check in with those involved, periodically, to ensure they know they haven't been forgotten and that the investigation is ongoing.

8. Follow-up.

While it may not be appropriate to tell the involved parties everything uncovered during an investigation, you should let the person who brought forth the issue know if you found merit to the allegation. As appropriate, you may also provide information on the steps that will be taken to make sure the offending behaviors stop. After the investigation is complete, you should absolutely follow-up. The investigator, or someone from HR, should check in with the employees a few weeks or a month out to make sure things are fine and that the remediation has been successful.