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How Should HR Handle Discrimination And Harassment Complaints?

In 2017, the surge in allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace has made people question the role of HR when it comes to handling discrimination and harassment complaints. One reason for this might be because the HR department does not go beyond finding and hiring ideal candidates, while it is, in fact, their obligation to manage and develop employee experience and well-being as well.

So, how should HR deal with such complaints and make employees feel valued and respected?

Ignoring or failing to invest the charges thoroughly might lead to serious damages regarding victims’ health and mentality, productivity, or even a costly lawsuit that hurts the company’s reputation. Thus, it is crucial for HR to take it seriously and get into action mode immediately to not aggravate the problem further. Here are a few important steps HR should make when receiving a report of workplace bullying or harassment:

   1. Treat victims with respect

Taking immediate action is crucial, however, before that the HR representative should take time to listen and understand the situation by gathering every single detail from the complainant. Filing a complaint against co-workers, especially the higher-ups, takes a great deal of courage. The employee when filing such a report might as well be in their most vulnerable state as well, thus taking this seriously will make them feel respected and valued. It also allows the HR professional to accurately plan out what subsequent steps to make. 

   2. Keep things confidential

It is imperative for HR to remain confidential even before, during the investigation, and after the issues have been resolved. They need to ensure only people related to the case are involved in the process and not disclose any information to the irrelevant party as this might lead to unfounded gossip or rumors, which is extremely unhealthy for productive work relationships. Additionally, treating the complaint in a confidential manner also keeps the accuser safe from retaliation and ensure that they are not coerced to retract the claim.

   3. Conduct an immediate investigation and document everything

After mapping out a strategy based on current knowledge of the situation, take action immediately to resolve the issue. Delaying the process, as previously mentioned, would only worsen the situation. However, while it is important for HR to act quickly, they should not rush the process just to get over with it. Interview the individual or individuals accused of the discrimination/harassment as well as any potential witnesses and document all conversations. Any facts or findings, either small or big, will have an impact on the decisions to prove or disprove the allegations. 

Also, it should be emphasized that at this point, there is no concrete evidence to accuse anyone of having committed that illegal act. As such, the HR representative should investigate the claim objectively and avoid making assumptions until the investigations complete. 

After collecting sufficient evidence, make the best decision and provide the appropriate discipline or punishment to the right people.

Things to consider  

There are a few things that HR should take into consideration when handling sensitive situations. Not only will it help reduce harassment, but it also show that the company is committed to combating workplace harassment to maintain a healthy environment without hurting its reputation.

   1. Policy enforcement

HR can’t prevent perpetrators from conducting inappropriate behavior in the workplace – often, they are people with power who perpetuate and sustain such behavior against the vulnerable by manipulating them into doing what they want. 

However, HR’s responsibility is not just hiring and recruiting employees. Employees are the core of a successful business, which is why their experience and well-being should be the top priorities. Therefore, what HR can do is to keep employees informed of what is accepted and what is not, enforce anti-harassment policies, and make sure they are concise and transparent to avoid any confusion in the future. It is also important to encourage employees to speak up and offer meaningful support if something happens. The sooner harassment issues are resolved, the better the workplace becomes.

   2. Company’s reputation

More often than not, many HR representatives are hesitant about investigating such issues for fear of affecting the organization. Their reasoning for this is, while the safety and well-being of employees are top priorities, protecting the organization’s reputation during a harassment investigation is also one of those as it might lead to large-scale damages. As such, a well-thought-out plan is, again, extremely necessary. While handling the claim, ensure the accuser that inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated and make it clear to the accused harasser that the outcome has not been predetermined. Failing to do so might lead to either party or both to take a step further, such as filing a claim of their own, and the organization might be held liable.


Resolving claims of discrimination or harassment in the workplace takes a lot of effort and is not an easy task for HR managers and the organization. There are many things that need to be considered carefully. However, if HR takes the complaint seriously and addresses it with a thorough strategy, they would be able to save victims as well as other employees from further harassment, while maintaining the reputation of the company.

According to i-Sight + Forbes + The Balance Career

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