Sexual harassment is illegal; however, it is a persistent problem in many New Jersey workplaces. All employers have a duty to investigate and resolve sexual harassment claims. If you have experienced harassment at work, Castronovo & McKinney, LLC can help.
We can advise you on what’s involved in a sexual harassment investigation, protect your rights, and explore your legal options. Your employer may be liable for not stopping the harassment, and you may be entitled to significant compensation. Contact our office today to discuss your case with an experienced sexual harassment attorney.
Conducting Sexual Harassment Investigations in New Jersey
Once a harassment complaint arises, an employer must investigate the claim, regardless of whether it is made formally through the company’s harassment reporting policy or in an informal manner. The purpose of an investigation is to determine the basic facts, such as:
- What happened
- The harasser’s identity
- Where and when the alleged harassment occurred
- How the complainant’s work was affected
- Whether anyone witnessed the incident(s)
- Whether the incident was isolated or part of a pattern
Employer harassment prevention policies typically advise complainants to notify a supervisor or designated human resources personnel. Supervisors and managers must also follow protocols for reporting harassment complaints to HR.
Ultimately, the person investigating the complaint must understand the issues, be willing and able to take the complaint seriously, and not advocate for either party. If company employees cannot be objective, bringing an outside investigator to ensure the inquiry is fair and impartial may be necessary.
Interviewing the Complainant
During the initial interview with the complainant, the investigator will likely ask questions to establish:
- When and where the incident occurred
- What was said or done by both parties
- Whether there were any witnesses
- How the alleged incident affected the complainant
- Whether the complainant documented the alleged incident
- Whether the complainant knows of others who have experienced harassment
The investigator may ask the complainant to put this information in writing or sign the interview questionnaire. The investigator should assure the complainant they will be protected from retaliation and that the employer will limit the disclosure of any information to those who need to know.
Interviewing the Alleged Harasser
The investigator will inform the alleged harasser of the reason for the investigation, assure them that conclusions have not been reached and that the matter will remain as confidential as possible. The investigator must explain the allegations with enough detail to allow the alleged harasser to respond fully to the claim. Whether the investigator will interview the alleged harasser before or after the other witnesses depends on the factual circumstances.
The investigator will interview all employees who know about the alleged incident. Depending on the circumstances, the investigator will interview the complainant again after talking to the alleged harasser and other witnesses. In some cases, the investigator may obtain signed written statements from the witnesses. Finally, the investigator may provide the alleged harasser with an opportunity to respond to claims made by witnesses.
The investigator will attempt to gather any information that corroborates or negates the harassment claim, including e-mails, text messages, chat messages, and social media posts. The investigator may review past performance evaluations and personnel records to determine whether the alleged harasser has a pattern of misconduct.
Concluding the Investigation
The investigator will determine whether the facts are based on first-hand knowledge, hearsay, rumors, or gossip and assess the parties’ motivations to lie or embellish. The investigator will prepare a written report to document the investigation and draw conclusions.
Once the investigation is complete, the complainant and the alleged harasser will be informed of the results. If the investigator finds that harassment has occurred, the employer must take prompt remedial action, including disciplinary action against the harasser. Disciplinary action may range from an oral warning to a written reprimand to termination. The action taken need not be the most severe, but it must reasonably prevent further harassment.
What Should I Do If I Experienced Sexual Harassment at Work?
The first thing to do is tell the harasser their comments or conduct are offensive and must stop. You should then follow your employer’s sexual harassment policy and report the harassment to a supervisor or HR. It is also wise to document the alleged incidents in writing, noting the date, time, and what the harasser said or did. Also, keep any evidence, such as emails, texts, or other communications from the alleged harasser.
You should know that an employer who knows or reasonably should have known about the sexual harassment and failed to stop it may be held liable. That’s where Castronovo & McKinney can assist you. We have extensive experience handling sexual harassment claims and will work to protect your rights. Although you may be reluctant to come forward, it’s the best way to protect your rights and may even prevent others from being victimized.
Contact Our Experienced New Jersey Sexual Harassment Attorneys
Whether you have experienced workplace harassment or have been asked to participate in a sexual harassment investigation, talk to an experienced employment lawyer. Contact our office today to understand your rights.