A common lament for California workers who are subjected to harassment on the job is that their employer is not taking the allegations seriously. In extreme cases, the employee is even discouraged from reporting the behavior at all and may face various levels or retaliation with the most extreme being termination. While employees might look at their case from the viewpoint of other people who have been subjected to this type of mistreatment, it may be useful to consider what the employer’s legal obligations are. The investigation is a fundamental part of any harassment complaint whether it is sexual harassment, bullying and other activities.
Employers should adhere to certain fundamentals with investigations
Employees should know what employers are expected to do when investigating workplace harassment complaints. It is essential that investigators have no stake in the outcome. Impartiality can be complicated, especially when the investigator could be impacted by the result of the investigation. If there is reason to believe that the investigator is biased in any way, then this could present a challenge to resolve the situation fairly.
Investigators should also be qualified with adequate training to do the job. Knowing the basics as to how to investigate complaints, having a full grasp of the law and being cognizant of employer policies are part of that. The investigator should have some form of training in human resources. For some workplaces, it may be preferable to have an outside investigator who will not have preconceived notions nor any personal involvement in the determination, financial or otherwise. The investigator must ask questions – sometimes intimate questions – to the people who are on opposite sides of the dispute. This should be handled professionally and not treated as a type of law enforcement interrogation.
For a final determination, the facts are crucial. In many cases, there is a different perspective as to what occurred, but those facts are relatively consistent. In others, one person says one thing while the other says something else. Credibility, consistency, a history of workplace issues and more can come into play with “he said/she said.” If a person has reason to initiate falsehoods, then this could be weighed as part of the process. Witnesses can also be questioned and if they provide a reasonable interpretation of what happened, this could be a vital aspect of the case. Evidence and documentation should be part of the investigation.
Employees should understand the importance of legal protection
These factors should be inherent in any workplace when an employee claims that they are being harassed. Unfortunately, some employers either shun their responsibility entirely or perform perfunctory investigations to put forth the impression that they are adhering to the law while doing the bare minimum just to make it go away. In extreme cases, they might even retaliate against the complainant covertly or overtly.
The #MeToo movement gave courage to many who may not have previously reported workplace violations, sparking a rise in reporting. Sadly, that does not mean the behavior has stopped and attempts to nudge investigations in a certain direction has ceased. For employees who have been harassed and tried to go through the available channels in their workplace to achieve some level of justice and been ignored, faced sanctions, been demoted or even terminated, it is imperative to understand the legal alternatives available. Having experienced legal assistance to ensure the case is taken seriously can be effective to achieve a satisfactory outcome.