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How employers should handle sexual harassment reports

With sexual harassment frequently in the news, some employers may wonder if they are taking sufficient measures to protect themselves if an employee alleges that harassment is taking place. There are several dos and don'ts for employers in addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.

First, employers need to have a sexual harassment policy. Employees should be informed of the policy during their first day on the job, and it should be clear that harassment will not be tolerated. The company also has a responsibility to protect a person who has reported sexual harassment from further harassment or retaliation. This might involve separating the person from the accused harasser. Employees should be reassured that they have done the right thing in coming forward and that they should report any retaliation they experience.

Interviews should be conducted with more than one person present on the employer side. Both the accused and the accuser should be allowed to describe things in their own words. Specific information such as dates should be noted. Human resources and supervisors should be consulted, and an appropriate decision and proportional punishment, if harassment has occurred, should be given.

Employers should not ignore a complaint or misunderstand the law. They also should not assume that the accuser is lying or that harassment has not occurred because of a previous relationship or for other reasons.

In order to avoid inadvertently violating the law, a company might want to consult an attorney throughout this process. Whether it is sexual harassment, workplace discrimination or another issue, a company needs to protect both its employees and itself. A company must be particularly careful when preparing to terminate or discipline an employee who has reported harassment or discrimination in the past. It must be clear that this is related to the employee's performance and not retaliation or further evidence of that harassment or discrimination.

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