Question: I just completed a harassment investigation. We verified that harassment occurred and terminated the harasser. Everyone seems to know what happened and tensions are high in our small office. What else can I do?
Answer: In this type of situation and environment, be mindful of potential retaliation. No matter how hard you try to keep the complaint and investigation process confidential, harassment complaints not only affect the employees directly involved, but tend to stir up tension within the workplace.
Rights of Those Involved
State and federal laws prohibit retaliation against an employee who reports workplace harassment. These laws also prohibit retaliation against employees who participate in or provide information during the course of an investigation.
How to Prevent Retaliation
Take reasonable steps to prevent retaliation at all times before, during, and after a harassment investigation.
#1 Anti-Retaliation Policy and Harassment Training
Every company should have an anti-retaliation policy in place and conduct regular harassment training that covers retaliation. (If you need assistance putting together an anti-retaliation policy or are interested in training opportunities, reach out to us.)
#2 Report Suspected Retaliation
Provide a copy of the company’s anti-retaliation policy to every employee who is interviewed during a harassment investigation. Instruct them to immediately report suspected retaliation.
#3 Train Your Supervisors
Your supervisors are a critical line of defense. They should be trained and on high alert for conduct that appears to be retaliatory. Retaliation can be subtle and even indirect, such as giving the “silent treatment” or talking behind someone’s back.
#4 Prompt Investigation
Retaliation complaints should be promptly investigated by HR in the same manner and to the same extent as harassment complaints. If retaliation does occur, the company must put an end to it. This may require individual counseling on the anti-retaliation policy, or more severe action.
#5 Remember the Human Side of the Issue
You should also consider how to address the human aspects of this issue. To help your employees re-engage with each other in constructive ways, it may be helpful to seek advice from an organizational culture consultant, an employee assistance program (EAP) counselor, a diversity and inclusion expert, or another outside adviser. Employees may need group training or individual coaching on respectful workplace behavior. Team-building exercises may also help. If you’re not sure where to start in locating an appropriate consultant, contact Vigilant to learn more about our services.
For more information about your legal obligations, see our Legal Guide, Retaliation Claims: How to Avoid Them. Not a member? Learn more about our flat-fee employment law advice services, wealth of member-specific resources, and how we compare to HR hotlines and law firms.