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Harassment & Discrimination
How Does HR Handle Harassment? A Comprehensive Look
How does HR handle harassment in the workplace? We'll go over the different types of harassment claims there are in the workplace along with how HR investigates a complaint.

Every day we go to work expecting to be able to do our duties without unneeded stress or harassment. Unfortunately, not everyone can have that convenience. When dealing with any type of workplace harassment, it's common to contact your HR representative. So, how exactly does HR handle harassment claims?

The only way to stop this issue from coming up again is to have strict rules, good compliance training, and proper management of any harassment complaints received by human resources. If you don't do that, you could have even bigger problems on your hands (like reputational damage or expensive lawsuits).

The easiest thing for you to do is to prevent it and provide a comfortable workplace. Fortunately, the team at EasyLlama is here to help with a deep dive into the different types of harassment complaints HR has to handle, how to set clear expectations, and how HR deals with complaints properly.

But first, let's go over the different types of harassment in the workplace.

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The Different Types of Harassment You Can File a Complaint About

Usually, when we think of harassment we tend to think of the most basic forms like verbal and discrimination harassment. However, there are more serious forms like physical and sexual harassment. Employees can even digitally harass or cyberbully one another. Harassment in any form is unacceptable and should be documented and dealt with immediately to prevent a hostile work environment.

Let's dive into all the different types of virtual, physical, verbal, and visual harassment you can file a complaint about.

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Verbal harassment

Verbal harassment in the workplace is when someone uses words to scare, manipulate, insult or just say something means like insults or negative comments. It makes the victim feel alone, helpless or hurts their self-confidence.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes unwanted, inappropriate touching or sexual advances. This can also be verbal sexual jokes, sharing of visual pornography, or even texting or emailing sexual messages. Sometimes, it can even go as far as supervisors or managers making requests for sexual favors in exchange for job security or promotion (or Quid Pro Quo harassment).

Physical Harassment

There are different levels of physical harassment in the workplace. Just because you are not seriously injured from physical gestures or contact, it still may count as physical harassment. If you are constantly touched in the hair, face, skin, or just even clothing or damage to your property, it could still be considered harassment.

Cyber harassment

Cyber harassment is through virtual or electronic means like cell phones, computers, and tablets through SMS, Text, social media, or apps. Online harassment can happen when someone posts embarrassing photos of you, makes humiliating comments, spreads lies, sends threatening or degrading messages, and even pretends to be someone else but messaging you.

These forms of harassment are generally true for all States. What constitutes harassment in CA may be different from what constitutes harassment in NY. Before we talk about how to report harassment claims to HR, we'll go over how to prove these claims for harassment in the workplace. After all, an allegation without evidence would probably not be taken seriously.

How Do You Prove A Harassment Claim?

To begin with, it can be a bit difficult to gather concrete evidence of harassment since it happens without any warning and ends right that instant. At the same time, harassers can deny that their behavior is considered harassment. For example, they can say the instance occurred once and wasn't meant to be malicious. In order to prove workplace harassment, then, the victim of said harassment should pursue the case with extreme dedication and care. The best way to prove harassment in the workplace is to establish a timeline, gather concrete evidence, and have witness reports.

To establish a timeline, you should begin by documenting or recording every instance of harassment right after the moment it occurs. Write it all down in a single document while making sure to be as thorough and descriptive as you can. You should be sure to include the date, time, where it happened, who was involved, witness information, and as much detail about the encounter as possible. If situations like this continue to pile on, you'll be able to show that there's a pattern of behavior over a period of time.

Collect any photos, drawings, or items used to humiliate or harass you. You can even use voicemails or emails you've received as evidence of harassment. Look for people at your work that can support or testify to your claims of harassment. An internal witness or coworker may help a person who can testify against the emotional damage or harassment from verbal abuse.

How to Report Harassment Claims to Human Resources

Human resource departments are intended to help employees. Especially when those employees feel threatened at work. As an employee, you should report your harassment claims right away so an investigation can begin. Your human resources department has professionals trained in handling allegations like this where it's best to have a neutral, objective party instead of a direct supervisor.

Before you report harassment claims, you might want to speak with the individual who is harassing you to tell them about how you feel and to stop. By doing this, you could settle it. However, if you are being physically abused or harassed, this may not be the best idea.

Here are some tips for reporting harassment claims to human resources:

  • If you contacted the harasser and told them to stop, but they continue, have all the evidence like text messages, emails, established timeline and eye witness accounts ready when you report the abuse to HR.
  • Filing a written report may be better than pulling your manager supervisor or HR person aside to discuss your complaints. Having written proof of you addressing the harassment can go a long way if a lawsuit were to arise. Send an email to HR with all the details of the harassment along with the records of the inappropriate behavior. Here's a guide on how to write a harassment complaint letter.
  • You might not want to notify your supervisor of your claims if they are the harasser or close to the one who is getting accused. This could introduce bias into the investigation and cause your harassment claim to not be taken seriously.

It should be noted that if you believe the HR department is not taking your case seriously, report it to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). It is a common concern to not want to report harassment because of fears of retaliation. If you report harassment, you cannot be fired and if you are, you can file a lawsuit.

Also, bear in mind that all companies are required to provide training and policies that govern harrassment in the workplace. If you think the company you're working for is not compliant, reach out to the higher authorities. The requirements for training may be different in each state but if you're in New Jersey. Check out the New Jersey harrassment training requirements. This outlines everything that a company should do to train their employees and how to prevent any type of harrassment in the workplace.

Preparing for a Harassment Investigation

Once the harassment claim is reported, it's up to the human resources team to investigate and suggest appropriate solutions to the problem. All companies should already have a detailed harassment policy to consult that defines harassment while detailing all the consequences. While investigating all employees involved should be treated consistently and fairly. All employees involved should feel safe to participate in the work harassment investigation questions by understanding that retaliation against anyone cooperating with an investigation is unlawful.

Confidentiality plays a huge role in this and everyone involved should feel comfortable knowing that their investigation is on a need-to-know basis. While preparing, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the EEOC's guidelines for what to do if you believe you've been harassed at work. Once all the information is together and the proper channels are notified of the workplace harassment complaints then you're ready to move on resolving the harassment allegations.

How Does HR Deal With Harassment Complaints

When dealing with workplace harassment your human resources department will determine how to handle the harassment complaint appropriately. For instance, if a manager makes an isolated inappropriate comment, the action may include retraining, probation, and continued monitoring. But if the harassment is more serious in nature may end in termination or the case being referred to outside authorities. When making determinations like this, it's important for your human resources department to listen to employees. First and foremost, it's essential for human resources to get feedback from the whistleblower on their opinion about any actions or remedies.

Best practices will also dictate that the broader group where the whistleblower works amongst should also be given the chance to offer feedback on the environment. It's important to know if the incident was isolated or a part of a larger systemic problem.

Here is what HR does when you file a harassment complaint.

HR Harassment Complaint Process

After you file an HR harassment complaint, the next step would be to validate the evidence of your claims. This includes:

  • Evaluating the documents for review
  • Locating potential interviewees to support the harassment claims
  • Conducting interviews

Reviewing The Claim's Documents

The HR representative will first look at all the supporting documents or notes you've collected to see if the harassment did happen. They will carefully look at the evidence and refer to the companies' anti-harassment or workplace policies. They will even investigate to see if the person who is having a claim filed against has any previous record of harassment. If your witnesses provided a written statement, these records will be looked at closely.

Locating Potential Interviewees

Everyone who is mentioned in the harassment claim will be identified as potential interviewees. This is typically made up of the complainant, the alleged wrongdoer, witnesses or observers, supervisors, and coworkers. Most of the time, the complainant or witnesses are interviewed first.

Conducting Interviews

Here is where the HR representative begins conducting the investigation. It is HR's job to document the names, dates, and statements of each person interviewed as accurately as possible.

They need to take detailed notes, as close to verbatim as possible. After the interview is complete, they should review with the interviewee the notes or main points to confirm their accuracy and see if the interviewee has anything to add.

Don't Hesitate to Contact your HR Department

The worst thing you can do is wait to contact your HR department and let your harasser continue their behavior. Harassment is unacceptable in any setting and should be reported right away. Human resources are there to help you feel safe and comfortable in the workplace. Your case will be treated with extreme importance and it will help you be at peace while at work.

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