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HR's Role in Action: Investigating Workplace Harassment Claims


Employee Management

HR's Role in Action: Investigating Workplace Harassment Claims

Harassment in the workplace can take many forms and occur in both, physical and remote work environments, creating new challenges.........

November 22, 2023
min read
November 22, 2023
8 min read
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HR's Role in Action: Investigating Workplace Harassment Claims

Beyond the intricacies of technology and the dynamics of a diverse environment, today's workplace grapples with a multitude of pressing issues, chief among them being the problem of workplace harassment. 

According to a collaborative study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Lloyd's Register Foundation (LRF), and Gallup, one in five individuals in the workforce (23%) have encountered workplace violence and harassment. Statistics about women in business reveals that women in business face a significant share of these challenges, with 27% of women experiencing workplace harassment compared to 19% of men.

When faced with workplace harassment of any kind, it's typical to reach out to your HR representative for further investigations. HR then helps to ensure a fair and just resolution that benefits both the affected employees and the organization as a whole. 

In this blog post, we'll delve into HR's vital role in investigating workplace harassment claims and the steps involved in the process.  

Understanding Workplace Harassment  

Harassment in the workplace can take many forms and occur in both, physical and remote work environments, creating new challenges for employees and leadership.  Verbal actions, such as offensive comments, or derogatory jokes can create a hostile atmosphere for the targeted individual or group. 

Physical conduct, including unwarranted touching, intimidation, or even physical assault, can instill fear and discomfort, while visual harassment, such as the display of offensive images, or gestures, can be equally damaging. 

Harassment is often rooted in biases and prejudices associated with characteristics such as race, gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation. Discrimination on the basis of these attributes can fuel harassment incidents, making it crucial for organizations to address both overt and subtle manifestations of bias. 

HR's Role in Investigation  

HR professionals manage the entire employee life cycle, from hiring and onboarding to offboarding. Sometimes workplace harassment complaints become part of this journey. 

Once an employee has filed a complaint, HR takes the lead in conducting a thorough investigation, which typically involves multiple key steps. 

1.  Immediate action 

While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not set a specific timeline for investigations, it strongly advises taking immediate action upon receiving a complaint.

A study from the AllVoices team discovered that 53% of respondents stated that their workplace addressed harassment issues promptly. On the other hand, 12% reported witnessing no action taken, and 14.7% were not aware of any measures being implemented. Only about 54% of those surveyed had their problems fully resolved.

HR investigation's duration will vary depending on the nature of the complaint, but it's crucial to prioritize addressing policy violations on time. While completing the investigation in a single day may not be feasible, strive to expedite the process without compromising its thoroughness and integrity. 

This not only safeguards your company and protects employees but also ensures the smooth operation of your business. 

2.  Gathering Information 

HR professionals take a comprehensive approach to collect all pertinent details regarding the alleged harassment. They initiate this process by interviewing various individuals involved in the situation, starting with the person who reported the incident. 

They also reach out to the accused party to obtain their side of the story, allowing them to share their perspective and provide any evidence or information they deem relevant. And identify any potential witnesses who may have observed the incidents or have relevant information to contribute. 

In addition to interviews, HR meticulously gathers documentation related to the harassment, including incident reports, emails, text messages, or any other written or electronic evidence that may shed light on the situation. 

3.  Ask the right questions 

When investigating harassment complaints, asking the right questions can make or break the case. Firstly, inappropriate or vague questions may lead to incomplete or misleading responses, hindering the investigation's final result. 

Secondly, asking the right questions demonstrates fairness and impartiality in the investigation process. Employees involved in harassment complaints need to feel that their concerns are taken seriously and that their statements will be considered objectively. 

A recent survey showed that when a colleague encounters a workplace problem, 31% of employees are inclined to recommend their peers to HR for assistance. This figure tends to rise when employees have had positive interactions with HR/ER but decreases when their experiences have been negative. 

Remarkably, 65% of employees who reported issues that were properly investigated and resolved expressed a likelihood of referring their colleagues to HR. Conversely, when issues were mishandled, only 19% of employees would consider making such referrals.

Lastly, asking the right questions ensures compliance with legal and ethical standards. Effective questioning techniques can help HR professionals navigate sensitive issues while adhering to privacy and confidentiality regulations.

There are a couple of frameworks that can be employed to uncover the facts:

Some questions that an HR professional can ask during interviews with different parties of the case: 

  • Can you describe the incident or behavior that you believe constitutes harassment? 
  • Can you provide specific dates, times, and locations? 
  • Are there any individuals who may have witnessed the incident or have relevant information? 
  • Do you have any emails, texts, or other written communication that is related to the incident? Have you documented the incidents in any way, such as keeping a journal or notes? 
  • Do you know if there have been any other complaints or reports against the alleged harasser? 
  • Is there anything else you would like to add or any additional information you believe is relevant to this investigation?

4.  Making a Determination  

HR professionals carefully evaluate the gathered information, considering the evidence, statements, and any applicable workplace policies and laws. Their goal is to ascertain whether harassment indeed took place. 

If the investigation substantiates harassment, HR must then proceed with appropriate corrective measures. The nature and severity of the misconduct will guide these actions, which can vary widely, from providing counseling and training to reporting the incident to relevant governmental agencies. 

5.     Communicating Outcomes 

HR communicates the investigation's findings and outcomes to both the complainant and the accused. Clear and sensitive communication is essential to ensure that both parties understand the resolution and their rights moving forward.  

In a workplace survey, 74% of respondents reported positive experiences, feeling that they were treated with dignity and respect, received timely responses, and had effective communication throughout the process. 

Nevertheless, a significant portion of employees, 39%, expressed dissatisfaction with the communication aspect, and 42% stated that they lacked a clear understanding of what to anticipate during the investigation.

Beyond addressing individual harassment claims, HR also plays a vital role in preventing future incidents. This includes creating and enforcing anti-harassment policies, providing training for employees and managers, and fostering a culture of respect and inclusion within the organization.  


The role of HR in investigating workplace harassment claims is absolutely crucial for upholding a thriving and effective work atmosphere. Through a systematic and unbiased approach to these investigations, HR experts can provide employees with a sense of security, assurance, and recognition. 

This process fosters the organization's overall health by championing a culture rooted in principles of fairness, equality, diversity, and inclusivity.

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