The key to maintaining limited culpability in addressing internal sexual harassment claims lies in building a procedural framework to properly handle all claims from your staff.
Start by ensuring you have a good internal procedure for handling initial complaints. Doing so allows employers to make an affirmative defense limiting the damages which can be collected by an employee in cases where he or she did not utilize the procedures put in place to stop harassment. This is referred to as the avoidable consequences doctrine, and it is recognized when an employer has a good complaint procedure readily available to deal with complaints without burden on the employee.
Having received a complaint, make sure you treat all complaints seriously. Furthermore, immediately follow-through with protocol in addressing the concerns of your employee. When reviewing or investigating a complaint, assign two people – one to take notes and one to simply listen to the evidence. This allows you to thoroughly document the investigation and to listen for irregularities. As a final consideration, always remain objective in your evaluations, and remember, you can always use the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines to double-check your process.
During the investigation, take a step back and determine whether or not it is necessary to separate the two employees prior to reaching a conclusion about the case.
In the aftermath of the case, be clear in stating that your company will not allow for any form of retribution to take place among all those involved in the investigation. Should the employee have concerns of retaliation, present the procedures for filing these complaints as well.