Pitfalls to Avoid When an Employee Makes a Harassment Claim

“Harassment” and “hostile work environment” are certainly buzzwords that HR professionals and managers hear a lot the last several years. So much so that many managers are in “harassment fatigue” and can find themselves in a tough situation by not acting timely or appropriately when they receive a complaint.

Any time a claim of harassment, retaliation or discrimination is received an investigation must follow, but how should you handle that initial conversation when an employee walks in your office and makes a claim?  Here are a few things that will help you successfully manage your way through the situation.

Don’t Brush It Off

Take every claim seriously. We know that every office has *that* person who seems to enjoy complaining…it’s too cold in the office, my co-worker talks too loud on the phone, why can’t I work from home 3 days a week? Even though you probably don’t want to hear one more complaint from Whiny Walter or Negative Nelly, the one time you actually ignore his or her complaint may be the one time they have a real, legitimate complaint.

Don’t Admit Fault

Listen empathetically when someone brings a complaint to you, but don’t get ahead of yourself.  You’ve only got one side of the story when you initially receive a complaint.  All parties in the situation have the right to provide their version of the events in question. If it’s one of your best employees, it’s easy to find yourself saying “I’m so sorry this has happened to you”. Avoid that pitfall, you don’t yet have all the facts.

Don’t Promise How or When the Issue Will be Resolved

Depending on the complexity of the situation, it can take anywhere from a couple hours to several days to complete an investigation. Although you want to bring resolution to the issue swiftly, you won’t know how involved the issue might become during this first conversation.  Immediately contact your HR Manager when a complaint is made, they are well versed in these types of situations.  A great HR partner will take the lead on the issue for you and be your guide through the process.

Don’t Assume Guilt of the Accused

In too many of these situations there are extenuating circumstances or complex personal relationships that you are not aware of. Although you may think that you know your co-workers well, there is always more to the story than you will get in that very first conversation.

For more info on harassment claims and for a sample harassment complaint form visit SHRM:


Finally, we know how stressful these types of complaints can be for managers. At Dovetail HR Consulting we deal with these types of investigations every day and they are second nature for us. For help with any of your sticky harassment investigations just contact us, we will help resolve the matter quickly and respectfully.

Check out our ongoing HR partnership services for more informaton on harassment, discrimination and hostile work environment investigations./p>

As always, feel free to contact us for more information.