Harassment and discrimination complaints are among the most sensitive and difficult issues for HR professionals to handle. When a harassment or discrimination complaint is made, the HR department must act quickly and professionally to resolve the matter in a way that’s satisfactory to the employee presenting the complaint and protects the company from a possible litigation.
One of the more difficult aspects of these kinds of complaints is confidentiality. Private information communicated by an employee to the HR department must be kept confidential. At the same time, if an employee comes forth with a harassment or discrimination complaint, steps must be taken to investigate the claim. And this may mean having to disclose some of the employee’s confidential information.
What if an employee makes a claim of harassment or discrimination, but asks that no action be taken to investigate it? This presents quite a challenge, since, while you must consider the employee’s request, you also have a responsibility to the company and to all of the employees to fully investigate any and all complaints. And even if it’s requested, HR shouldn’t promise complete confidentiality, since investigating the complaint usually means involving other employees and managers. You should let the employee know that the HR department is responsible for investigating the complaint, not only in order to resolve the issue at hand, but also to help others who may be having similar experiences. However, you can assure the employee that confidential information will only be shared on an absolute need-to-know basis.
One of the most sensitive complaints is that of sexual harassment. The HR department must make sure that employees feel they can come forward if they feel they have been sexually harassed at any point, and to treat these complaints with the utmost sensitivity, confidentiality, and professionalism.
You also need to make sure that no discrimination occurs because an employer wishes to avoid potential sexual harassment complaints. For instance, an employer in a traditionally male-dominated industry such as construction, mining, or drilling, may be wary of hiring female workers for fear of facing sexual harassment complaints that could arise from a woman in an all-male environment. HR must tread carefully here since not hiring women for this or any reason is considered discrimination and is illegal according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), because it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Discrimination and harassment are harmful to employees and to the company. One of the most important tasks for HR is to work to prevent these types of complaints, and, if and when they occur, to know exactly how to handle them.
To help avoid these kinds of problems, HR departments should consider taking the following preventative actions.
If a discrimination or harassment complaint is filed, there are several things that HR departments should do.