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The EEOC requires that employers receiving a complaint, or otherwise learning of alleged harassment in the workplace, “investigate promptly and thoroughly…take immediate and appropriate corrective action by doing whatever is necessary to end the harassment, make the victim whole by restoring lost employment benefits or opportunities, and prevent the misconduct from recurring”. That’s a tall order to ensure a just and fair handling of a harassment complaint - an essential order that all organizations are required to follow. The investigation process is, perhaps, the most critical element in dealing with harassment. In cases that have gone to court it is often due to inadequate or absent investigations of complaints.
While there is no such legal requirement for instances of bullying (in which the definition varies widely), it is at the organization’s peril to not investigate bullying complaints. Employees and their attorneys are using various tort laws to bring action against their employer. Additionally, it is possible that an incident of “bullying” may be motivated by the target’s protected class and constitutes illegal discrimination or harassment.
The courts have opined that organizations must prevent and intervene on harassment complaints. The employer is required to demonstrate what it has done to prevent harassment. Not only is conducting an investigation a prevention and intervention tactic, but the HR professional tasked with conducting an investigation should be trained in how to do so—this also demonstrates prevention.
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