Despite all the conversation and media attention regarding #MeToo, it will take time to stop inappropriate behaviors in the work environment. Yet the EEOC estimated that over 75% of workplace harassment incidents go unreported. So, how do we ensure that those who believe they have been harassed feel comfortable stepping forward and raising a complaint with their employer?
If this is a first-time situation and you have no idea what to expect, that can be scary. How will your employer react? Will you be treated differently? Who is going to find out and will anything actually be done to help you? While recent news articles may have led you to believe otherwise, most organizations do want to do what is right. hese 10 Expectations will help you demystify the process and encourage more employees to feel empowered to step forward when something happens.
Expect a quick response. After you make a complaint, someone should meet with you promptly,within days at most, much less weeks! The meeting should be set up somewhere private so that you feel comfortable sharing what happened. The best case scenario is that this meeting is in person but if circumstances make that impossible, a prompt telephone interview will at least allow you to share your concerns in a timely manner.
Expect empathy not sympathy. Coming forward is not an easy thing to do and takes courage. You should expect to feel as if you are being listened to and that the issue is going to be taken seriously. However, it's important to remember that the investigator cannot tell you that they believe your story or apologize for what you have alleged has occurred. While that can feel frustrating, recognize that the purpose of the investigation is to determine the facts and, in order to do that, additional steps in the process must take place. Imagine if you were accused of having done something and the investigator immediately believed the person coming forward.
Expect to be asked for lots of details. The more details you can provide, the better. Depending upon the circumstances, relaying details may feel awkward or uncomfortable, but they are necessary to make sure the investigation is done completely. For example, did you tell anyone about the incident before reporting it? Were there any witnesses? Do you have any electronic or other records related to the situation? Maybe you sent a text to your best friend talking about how your manager made you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you saved an email from a few months back that just didn't make you feel great. Don't assume something isn't relevant. It's the job of the investigator to sort through all of that!
Expect to be asked by HR or the investigator how the company can help you during the investigation. Some organizations have resources that provide support like an Employee Assistance Program (also known as an EAP). If you're struggling or uncomfortable in the work environment during the investigation, there may be interim actions that can be implemented to alleviate that stress. Occasionally that will mean reassigning the alleged harasser or allowing you to work from home.
Expect that you will not be retaliated against. The company's non-retaliation policy should be explained to you including the steps you should take if you believe you are being retaliated against, both during and after the investigation. Use this time to ask questions if it is not clear. Know that organizations do take allegations this seriously. and that they may be against policy, but also against the law and won't be tolerated. Most importantly, you need to let your employer know if someone isn't treating you right or you feel retaliated against
Expect to be told to tell the truth. You're not being singled out. The expectation of truth should be explained to everyone who is interviewed as part of an investigation. Everyone should also be told that if it's uncovered that they were not being truthful, they could be subject to disciplinary action, sometimes including termination. It's simple. The truth is expected!
Expect neutrality. Trust that great consideration will be taken with regard to choosing the right investigator who can ensure neutrality within the process. Sometimes that means that the HR person to whom you made the complaint or who supports the business may not end up being the one who investigates your allegation.
Expect the investigation to take some time - probably longer than you would like. Jumping into an investigation too quickly can harm its integrity. Rushing through the steps may cause it to be incomplete. So while it may seem to be taking a long time, remember that conducting a proper and compliant investigation is paramount to both you and the organization and that it can't be done overnight. It can take time to interview all the involved parties. Electronic records and past files may need to be obtained and reviewed. And while frustrating, your investigator won't be able to tell you every step he or she is taking for confidentiality reasons. You should expect them to check in with you periodically so you know you haven't been forgotten and that the investigation is still underway. Please be patient and trust the process.
Expect that the process will be fair. Sometimes employees think that because HR works for the company they will take "management's" side. That should not be the case! Their role is to be the fact-finder. When inappropriate conduct occurs and threatens the workplace all employees, the company's most valuable resource, are impacted. So please don't assume your organization is against you.
Expect a conclusion and follow-up. While you may not be told about everything uncovered during the investigation, you should expect to be told if there was merit found to your allegation and, if appropriate, the steps that will be taken to make sure the offending behaviors stop. You may not agree with the actions taken but know that before a determination of consequences was reached, there should have been a review of many factors including severity, patterns of behavior and impact to the involved parties. After the investigation is complete, expect some follow-up. It is a best practice for the investigator or someone from HR to check in with you a few weeks or a month out to make sure things are going ok and the remediation has been successful. But don't wait! If the offending behaviors continue, please let your organization know immediately!
Deb Muller, is the founder and CEO of HR Acuity, the employee relations case management solution that companies trust to help them track, investigate, and analyze issues the right way. Deb provides a wealth of real-world experience and guidance to help companies strengthen processes, transform workplace culture, and elevate employee relations as a strategic driver of business success.