Remember, all employees are protected by the Civil Rights Act, Title VII. Sexual Harassment is a form of sex discrimination which is a protected class per the Civil Rights Act. All employees are also protected from retaliation and reprisal when they report any form of harassment or discrimination. Below is an outline of how to collect information and support the reporting employee’s and make sure they do not experience retaliation or reprisal while the incident is being resolved.
Collect Information and support the reporting employee
If an employee reports an incident or behavior, pay close attention and keep these things in mind:
- The person reporting is likely uncomfortable and nervous to be speaking to you, make them feel at ease.
- Ask them where they would like to continue the conversation, for privacy’s sake. Let them tell their story at their own pace.
- You need to be an active listener, an impartial advocate, and collect information about the incident in order to report it effectively to Human Resources.
- Are there other incidents that haven’t been reported? (This may be the tip of the iceberg)
- Did they verbally state to the perpetrator that they were uncomfortable?
- If they don’t label their story as sexual misconduct or sexual harassment, then ask yourself “why are they telling me this?”.
- Put yourself in their shoes, see it from their perspective, and take appropriate action.
As a supervisor it is not your job to distinguish the type of sexual violence that has been reported to you. You don’t get to decide how your employee should feel, and you should never create excuses for the alleged perpetrator. Model the behavior you want to see in a healthy work environment, and if you witness inappropriate behavior (jokes, comments, etc), be very clear with the perpetrator that it is NOT acceptable in this organization. Definitions of sexual violence terms vary legally from state to state. In policies, these definitions vary agency to company. Many federal agencies and private companies utilize the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition of sexual harassment in their policies.
Resolving an Incident
- Clarify your responsibility as a supervisor – You are a responsible employee and mandatory reporter. The moment you are notified of inappropriate behavior you MUST address it.
- Discuss short term and long term solutions to the reporting employee’s working environment – Short term – Does the employee need to take the day or week off? Mid-term – Temporary reassignment of one or both parties. Long term – Time off for counseling, tele-work, permanent change of assignment.
- Provide choices and options to the best of your ability – Provide short, mid, and long term solutions for the reporting employee and MAKE SURE to communicate these options to them. It is up to the reporting employee to decide what the best option is for them. If you make a decision without their input this may feel to the reporting employee like they are experiencing retaliation for reporting.
- Offer external resource support options – Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), The National Domestic Violence Hotline, State Coalitions – National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
- Communicate what action you are taking and why you are taking it – Because of your responsibility as a supervisor you will have to report the incident to Human Resources. Offer to go with the reporting employee to Human Resources when they are required to give further information.
As a supervisor you have the responsibility to keep your employees safe. Make sure to take the necessary steps anytime you are aware of any type of harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, or any other inappropriate workplace conduct.