HR Compliance

Building Employee Trust with Anonymous Sexual Harassment Reports

By

Erin Maxwell

| Apr 19, 2018

Employee trust is one of the most important factors in handling sexual harassment complaints. Employees need to trust HR will listen to their concerns and will respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment. Yet the EEOC notes only about 30% of employees who experienced harassment reported the harassment internally within their company.

One way HR can help build trust with employees is with a robust system of reporting and investigation that allows anonymous complaints and communications.

If clear procedures are communicated to employees and consistently followed, an anonymous complaint process can help build trust that HR is prepared and committed to investigating harassment complaints in a fair and thorough manner.

Make a plan and stick to it

 As with all company policies, developing your procedure ahead of time, and following it when issues arise, are key to workplace fairness. Following the steps of a robust and outlined policy can also help limit company liability after an incident occurs by demonstrating the company seriously investigated the complaint and took appropriate action in accordance with its policy.

Providing the means for employees to make anonymous complaints can help employees trust their complaints will be handled discretely and appropriately, and can help lessen employee concerns about retaliation.

Some employers contract with an outside vendor to provide a third-party anonymous reporting system that will pass on complaints only to a specific person or group who needs to know of the complaint in order to investigate. The vendor can also allow the person making the report to specify individuals who may be involved in the behavior, so those people will not receive access to the anonymous report.

Follow up

 Take anonymous reports as seriously as any other type of report, including face-to-face complaints. Recognize the reasons an individual may wish to remain anonymous and be sensitive in your response.

Think of anonymous reporting as simply another pathway to allow your employees to share their concerns, in addition to the other methods available to them, like discussions with HR personnel or meetings with supervisors. Thoroughly investigate any complaint made, regardless of whether the person who filed a report chooses to remain anonymous or not.

Don’t promise more than you can deliver

 Communicate to employees that they can make a report of sexual harassment completely anonymously. However, if they choose to identify themselves in a complaint, don’t promise you will be able to keep their identity secret. Make clear you have a duty to investigate all complaints, and this may involve interviews with the person or people accused of taking part in inappropriate or harassing behavior.

Emphasize the company will follow its internal procedures. Do not imply or promise what may result from an investigation after an employee complaint is made. An anonymous complaint is the first step of a workplace investigation, and must be investigated in accordance with policy, just like any other type of report.

It’s important to take your company’s responsibilities seriously when you respond to sexual harassment complaints. A robust policy that allows anonymous reports and responds with an impartial and thorough investigation to each anonymous complaint can be an effective part of an overall anti-harassment strategy, and can help build and maintain employee trust in HR personnel and anti-harassment efforts.

 Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

About the Author

Erin Maxwell

As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Erin Maxwell monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, focusing on health and employee benefits laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. She previously served as assistant general counsel at Asset Servicing Group in Oklahoma City. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Outside of work, Maxwell enjoys politics, historical mysteries and spending time with her family.

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