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10 Common Errors in Harassment & Human Rights Investigations

By April 12, 2016November 5th, 2019Employment Law

Harassment in the workplace comes up a lot in the news and in many conversations with dentists.  It is also something that you may have to investigate in your own practice.

In this post, we go over 10 common errors I have seen in harassment and human rights investigations.

  1. Rejecting anonymous harassment complaints.  You should accept any and all complaints regarding harassment regardless of its source.  It is up to you as the employer to determine whether the complaint triggers your duty to investigate.
  2. Waiting too long or hoping the problem will go away.  An employer should address harassment or discrimination complaints promptly.  Procrastinating won’t help the problem and it certainly won’t look good to your employees or a third party reviewing your actions as an employer.
  3. Not being impartial about what the outcome of the investigation will be.  When you commence an investigation, you must keep an open mind and not have a preconceived notion of what you want the outcome to be.  This should be reflected in the notes from the investigation as well.
  4. Discounting the perspective of the person who raised the complaint because of an assumption that they must be lying or have complained about something else in the workplace.
  5. Relying on irrelevant factors to take away from the credibility of the complainant. For example, an employee just came back from a parental leave and so they have not “adjusted back to the workplace” to make a valid harassment complaint.
  6. Concluding that a person was not harassed because they appeared to be going along with or participating in the comments or conduct. Some people who experience harassment do not speak out about it because they feel vulnerable or fear reprisal.
  7. Not taking any immediate steps to address harassment or discrimination.  Employers are obligated to start an investigation, but if the situation merits it, they can act in the short term to prevent further harassment or discrimination. This could include informing all staff of the practice’s harassment policy.  Or it could include suspending an employee with pay in order to prevent a toxic work environment while your investigation proceeds.
  8. Not giving a complainant a chance to respond.  The investigation should be thorough and should take into account all relevant information and facts.  This includes the employee you are investigating.
  9. Preparing a written statement on behalf of a witness denying harassment or discrimination and requiring multiple employees to sign them.  Statements as part of an investigation should never be obtained under pressure or duress.
  10. Assuming all employees are aware of the harassment policy and investigation procedure.  You have a harassment policy – great.  Are your employees aware of how to use it?  Is there a confidential way to report harassment?

A potential harassment or discrimination investigation might be a task that you may have to complete in the near future.  If you have questions about it and want to prepare yourself and your practice (in order to avoid the above mistakes), contact DMC – we are happy to help.

The Content of this post is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be legal, financial, tax, or other professional advice of any kind. You are advised to contact DMC (or other counsel) to seek specific legal advice concerning your individual situation.