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Investigating allegations of harassment or bullying in your company

While conducting your annual performance reviews, one of your employees raises a concern about another colleague’s harassing behavior. How should you respond? How do you know whether it’s a serious problem or just hearsay?

As an employer, it is not your job to decide whom to believe or to pick sides. It is, however, your responsibility to take any allegation of workplace bullying or harassment seriously – and take appropriate follow-up action. Ignoring any such incident could allow a potentially harmful workplace situation to persist. It would also be considered a breach of your duties as an employer under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

How to respond

You should investigate any formal allegations of misconduct in your organization. Your company should already have established policies and procedures for performing an investigation. Above all, it is important that your investigation be:

  • Prompt: Delaying an investigation sends the message that you don’t take the wellbeing of your employees seriously.
  • Fair and impartial: See below for how to handle investigations when your personal connections could affect your objectivity.
  • Confidential: It is important to remain sensitive to all parties involved.
  • Fact-finding: Your aim is to uncover facts and evidence through such means as interviews with the involved parties as well as any witnesses.

When to get outside help

Admittedly, impartiality may be difficult to guarantee when you’re the one investigating your own workforce. This may be especially true if you have a close relationship with the accused or the accuser. It is usually a good idea to hire outside help to conduct an unbiased investigation on your behalf when:

  • The allegation of misconduct is serious
  • Your relationship with the accused or the accuser may represent a conflict of interest
  • The accused is a senior member of leadership in your company
  • The accusations involve criminal conduct

As an employer, you want your workplace to be a safe space where people are treated with respect. Creating clear policies on appropriate workplace behavior is a good step towards preventing harassment or bullying. However, if such problems do arise, it’s important to respond in a manner that’s swift and fair.

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