Step-By-Step Investigation Procedures Can Help Limit Sexual Harassment Liability

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks

An Iowa lawsuit illustrates how an employer's response to reports of harassment is key to limiting, and even eliminating, liability.

In the case, three female truck drivers alleged sexual harassment by coworkers and provided substantial evidence to support their claims.

In its defense, the employer presented documentation of its response to the women's reports of harassment, including separating the accused from the victims; investigating the reports; taking appropriate disciplinary actions; and adjusting work assignments to avoid further harassment. The judge granted summary judgment to the employer.

Because the accused harassers did not hold supervisory positions, the employer's quick and thorough response to the complaints protected the employer from liability in the case. Jennifer Carsen "Employer not liable following prompt response to alleged co-worker harassment" (Jul. 22, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Every report of sexual harassment must be investigated. The length and breadth of the investigation depends upon how many incidents are alleged by the victim; the number of alleged harassers; the amount of documentary evidence; and the availability of witnesses.

This employer separated the victims from the alleged harasser during the pendency of the investigation (to prevent any further sexual harassment, if occurring, from continuing to occur) and took reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring, once the investigation determined it did, indeed, occur, by adjusting work assignments. Sometimes, employers will send an alleged victim and alleged harasser home on paid leave, during the pendency of an investigation. They should be told they are not "on vacation" and that they need to be available during what would be normal work hours to speak to the investigator.

Here are additional tips regarding investigations:

  • Don't delay the investigation. Make witnesses and documents available to the investigator to help keep it moving.?
  • The investigator must be thorough, prompt, objective, experienced, trained, and knowledgeable about the pertinent law. He or she should prepare a written report without drawing conclusions.?
  • Those who review the written report should draw reasonable conclusions from the facts discovered.?
  • Protect those who participated in the investigation from retaliation.
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