One of your employees walks into your office and complains of being sexually harassed by another of your employees, or worse- one of your customers. What do you as a small business owner do?
First things first. Do not under any circumstances retaliate against your employee for making the claim. I don’t care if the claim is against your best sales person, a regular customer, or anyone else that you trust and value at your company.
What constitutes retaliation?
The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws prohibit punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment. Asserting these EEO rights is called “protected activity,” and it can take many forms. One of those forms is making a harassment claim, or as the law puts it- participating in a complaint.
Participating in a complaint process is protected from retaliation under all circumstances. Other acts to oppose discrimination are protected as long as the employee was acting on a reasonable belief that something in the workplace may violate EEO laws, even if he or she did not use legal terminology to describe it.
For example, depending on the facts, it could be retaliation if an employer acts because of the employee’s claiming harassment to:
- reprimand the employee or give a performance evaluation that is lower than it should be;
- transfer the employee to a less desirable position;
- engage in verbal or physical abuse;
- threaten to make, or make reports to authorities (such as reporting immigration status or contacting the police);
- increase scrutiny;
- spread false rumors, treat a family member negatively (for example, cancel a contract with the person’s spouse); or
- make the person’s work more difficult (for example, punishing an employee for an EEO complaint by purposefully changing his work schedule to conflict with family responsibilities).
Put simply, do not punish the employee in any way, shape, or form for coming forward- its their right.
Now, to investigate the claim
In almost all claims, you want to interview the victim making the claim. The interview should be conducted without bias, showing faith in the victims claim and courage in coming forward. You also want to protect the confidentiality of the victim to avoid any retaliation from their harasser if they are in a position of authority over the victim. You should listen intently to the victim, and show empathy throughout the entire claim reporting process.