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Sexual harassment: What investigative steps must employers take?

When there is an allegation that sexual harassment has taken place in a workplace in Iowa, the victim should know how the case will be handled by the employer. There are basic, foundational issues that must be understood even before moving forward with a sexual harassment claim and seeking compensation in a legal filing. The internal investigation has numerous facets that are vital to a case. If the employer is derelict in its duties to fully investigate, that can be part of a case.

The employer must conduct an interview with the complainant regarding the allegations. It must know who the harasser is, the behaviors that took place, what the complainant's reaction was, where it happened, if there are witnesses and if it was a singular incident or there was a pattern of behavior. The complainant must be assured that the case will be as confidential as is reasonably possible.

If the situation is severe, it might be necessary for the employer to be proactive and act as soon as possible to separate the complainant from the situation. That can be a transfer or putting the complainant on paid leave. These actions cannot be viewed as retaliation or an adverse work action. The alleged harasser must be told of the accusations and will be given a chance to respond. Witnesses must be named, and there must be interviews of others who might have information about the case. The claim and any defense must be assessed to determine how credible it is. If it is shown to be viable, prompt discipline must be meted out. This can vary from counseling all the way up to a dismissal of the harasser.

The complainant must be kept up to date on the investigation and what was done about it. The complainant cannot be retaliated against - if it happens, this is a legal violation. The workplace situation could be complicated and it might be necessary to address it with other employees. When an enforcement agency becomes involved, there should be a prompt response and requested information should be provided. Any allegation of harassment must be taken seriously even if there are questions about its viability.

It can be hard for a victim of harassment to take the necessary steps to complain about sexual harassment and have something done. The employer has certain obligations and legal requirements when a complaint is made. Workers should be cognizant of the law when it comes to employer response to accusations of sexual harassment.

Source: icrc.iowa.gov, "ICRC FactSheet -- Harassment in the Workplace: It's Against the Law -- Conducting the Internal Investigation, page 4," accessed on May 8, 2018

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