Harassment in the workplace can be a complex subject and employers must take any complaints of harassment very seriously.
However, for the sake of managing a fair complaints process, employers must also be aware of what harassment is not.
Often times, employers feel the need to investigate any matter that comes across their desk. This is not always necessary. Deciding to investigate a matter of harassment is sometimes complicated and may have legal consequences, but if a careful and measured review is taken, the right decision can be made.
To determine if an investigation is necessary, consider whether a behaviour or action is an actual violation of any laws or policies. This consideration may seem simple, but it is the most important consideration when it comes pursing an investigation.
In order to make this determination, consider the generally accepted definition of harassment: conduct or comments that ought to be known to be offensive.
By using this standard to review the behaviours and actions that are the subjects of complaint, one can make informed and objective assessments as to whether an investigation is required.
To give an example, an employee might file a complaint of harassment, citing a co-worker spends too much time making personal calls while at work. On its face, this behaviour would not constitute harassment in the workplace and therefore would not require the employer to conduct an investigation into alleged harassment.
Simply put, this behaviour does not rise to the level of harassment in the workplace.
In a case where there is reason to believe some harassment might have taken place, the next important consideration will be deciding who will investigate the complaint.
To ensure a fair process, it is important that the investigator be someone in a position to find and weigh facts from an unbiased and neutral point of view.
Given the value of transparency and perceived fairness in these types of investigations, more and more organizations are looking to outside third-party investigators to conduct these workplace investigations. This approach is quickly becoming the new normal.