If you had reason to believe that a particular employee of your employer was engaging in anonymous harassment of a co-worker and you wanted to confront the individual in a meeting in your office what steps would you recommend taking in order to minimize the legal exposure of the company by the alleged harasser arising out of the meeting?
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If you want to avoid legal exposure, it is best to start before any allegation of harassment occurs. The first thing to do is to make sure that you have a clear written policy against harassment. The policy should spell out what sorts of actions constitute harassment and what steps will be taken when an employee is accused of having committed such actions. If you have such a written policy in place, it will be much easier to avoid legal problems arising from the meeting that you intend to have.
Second, because the alleged harassment has been anonymous, you must ensure that you have a good reason to suspect a given employee. While it is important to take an accuser seriously, in a case of anonymous harassment, you do not need to automatically assume that the accuser is correctly identifying the culprit. Therefore, if you are going to have this meeting, it would be best if you had some reasonable grounds to suspect the person you are going to interview.
When you conduct the meeting, you need to treat the accused as if they are innocent and you need to afford them all of the rights that they deserve to have. For example, you should not treat the accused as if they were being interrogated by the police. Instead, you should treat them as if they were being interviewed. You should make it clear that an allegation has been made against them and you should give them the chance to tell their side of the story. You should not threaten them or act as if you have formed the opinion that they are guilty. You must conduct your interview according to the procedures that you laid out in your harassment policy.
If you follow these guidelines, you will reduce your exposure to lawsuits in this matter.
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