When an employee of NBC Universal (NBCU) reported that she was being subjected to unwelcome sexual remarks while on the job, the company did not investigate the allegations to her satisfaction. Instead, she claims, her supervisor retaliated against her for making the report, and she ultimately lost her job altogether. In the end, a California court will decide whether or not NBCU appropriately dealt with the harassment report, and how much, if any remuneration is owed to the plaintiff.
How Should Companies Respond to Allegations?
Claims of harassment and discrimination, sexual or otherwise, are serious business. The EEOC lays out a definition of sexual harassment as including unwelcome advances or conduct that contributes to a hostile, offensive or intimidating environment. When HR receives complaints about such behavior, they have a responsibility to respond with haste and efficiency:
- The complainant should be addressed respectfully, acknowledging that making such an allegation generally requires some deep consideration and apprehension. Managers and others who respond to the individual making the report are obliged to handle such complaints with genuine concern.
- The issue must be investigated immediately. Company representatives who are experienced in this type of examination and who are completely impartial should take this task on with several key goals in mind:
- Reviewing the company’s harassment policy;
- Outlining the scope of the problem;
- Interviewing the person who is accused of impropriety;
- Encouraging anyone involved in the investigation to keep matters confidential through the course of the investigation;
- Instructing the accused to refrain from contacting the alleged victim;
- Reducing opportunities for the parties to see one another by putting the accused on leave (paid or unpaid) and/or providing paid leave for the complainant until the investigation is completed;
- Ensuring that supervisors are instructed that retaliation of any kind will not be tolerated;
- Questioning other employees and outside parties who may have witnessed interactions between the individuals involved;
- Assessing any relevant written communications between parties;
- Reviewing personnel records to look for potential patterns of behavior of the accused;
- Developing a plan to deal with inconsistencies in reports and/or credibility issues;
- Documenting the steps of the investigation and the findings of the investigation;
- Determining actions to respond to the findings;
- Informing the complainant as to the conclusions of the investigation and the actions, if any, taken.
When Companies Ignore Their Responsibilities
When employees go through proper channels to report workplace discrimination and harassment, they are entitled to a swift and thorough action to address the issues. If companies fail to respond appropriately, legal action may be the best recourse. At HKM, our experienced legal team will aggressively and ethically pursue justice on your behalf. Contact us in Los Angeles for a confidential consultation today.