What Justice Looks Like After Sexual Misconduct Has Occurred
By Alexis McKenna
February 20, 2018
If there is anything the #MeToo movement has taught the general public, it’s that there are a million ways to mishandle sexual misconduct claims. Some companies encouraged the behavior, others tried to hide or ignore it, and still others performed some form of bumbling investigation that provided no real change.
While few positive stories about organizations handling claims of sexual harassment properly have been publicized, there are some basic ground rules any company should follow to help foster a just process after sexual misconduct has taken place.
1. Proper Communication – Before, during and after a claim or accusation has been made, it is vitally important for management and executives to communicate with employees and staff. This includes communicating that anyone who bravely comes forward to make such a claim will be listened to and taken seriously throughout the process.
2. Listen – HR, managers, supervisors, executives and other company leaders must listen to the victim, the witnesses, the accused and anyone else impacted.
3. Inform Employees – After thoroughly listening to their story in full, informing the accusers of their rights, the company’s process, the laws and so forth will empower them to know that the law is working on his/her behalf. Few people fully understand state or federal law, and fewer still know that their employer’s policy is on claims of sexual misconduct. Informing others, such as fellow employees, managers who may know something about the incident and the accused are all important steps to take as well.
4. Eliminate Retaliation – From the outset, when talking to employees, managers, the accused and the victim it must be stressed that retaliation of any kind will not be tolerated. Any organization that wishes to foster an open and safe environment must eliminate any fear that coming forward with a sexual misconduct claim will lead to negative repercussions. More importantly than saying it, mean it. Enforce it. Simply saying the words doesn’t help when the company doesn’t follow through.
5. Ask for Patience – Any investigation has to be thorough and provide due process to both parties. Lawyers, law enforcement and HR will all need some involvement in the process, which may take time. Again, this comes down to communication with all relevant parties about the process, potential timeline and so forth.
6. Conduct All Interviews Effectively and Accurately – Interviews should be conducted of the accuser(s), any potential witnesses as well as the accused. Asking open-ended questions and seeking facts that support or disprove the employee’s allegations is important. Respect of each person’s story will allow the process to move along as smoothly as possible.
7. Consult with Knowledgeable Attorneys – The victim, accuser and organization should all have proper legal representation.
8. Know the Law – Employees should be aware of their rights under California, which includes EEOC guidelines which are available at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/harassment.html. Anyone conducting an investigation into sexual harassment or sexual misconduct should be fully aware of the laws and statutes before diving headlong into a complicated and sometimes painful process.
This does not begin to explain the detailed steps to a proper and fair investigation, but the ground rules for open communication, knowledge of the law and patience are often the key to helping victims feel listened to and for justice to ultimately prevail in any sexual harassment or misconduct investigation.