Investigating Workplace Harassment
by Amy Oppenheimer, J.D., and Craig Pratt, SPHR, MSW
203 pages

Investigating a claim of harassment in the workplace can be a very tricky undertaking. The authors of Investigating Workplace Harassment have taken their many years of experience in the realm of human resources (HR) and distilled them iinto a practical guide for HR professionals to use when faced with the challenges of harassment investigations. Their book gives HR professionals the knowledge they need to investigate a complaint of harassment, and illustrates the techniques that will lead to a successful investigation.

To complete an adequate investigation of workplace harassment, an investigator must possess certain knowledge and skills. The authors offer HR professionals many proven techniques to help them handle the difficult parts of an investigation into unlawful workplace harassment that is based on sex, race, age, religion, disability, etc.

The Prevalence of Sexual Harassment

The type of workplace harassment that receives the largest number of complaints each year is sexual harassment. Numbers from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) indicate that 41 percent of the complaints of discriminatory harassment in the mid-1990s were for sexual harassment, 24 percent were for racial harassment, 21 percent were for gender-based harassment, 7 percent were for national origin harassment, and the rest covered other types, including age, religion, etc. Although this book covers all of these types of workplace harassment, the majority of its examples relate to allegations involving sexual harassment.

The authors discuss the best ways investigators can gather information from employees during investigations of any type of harassment, and their examples can be applied to any form of unlawful workplace harassment. They explain that a different set of skills must be applied to these types of investigations than those used for law enforcement cases, and help those who already possess skills in other areas hone their talents into the field of harassment investigation. The authors present a step-by-step explanation of the nuts and bolts of a proper investigation. Their first chapter teaches investigators how they should prepare for an investigation and offers an explanation of the challenges an investigation places on an organization and the investigator.

The authors next delve into the primary laws and legal definitions that apply to workplace harassment, and explain the ins and outs of performing a legal investigation. Other points they cover include ways to understand when an investigation is necessary, who should investigate, and what the investigation should entail.

Paperwork and Questioning

After describing the necessary preparatory work, the authors walk their readers through the documentation that will be necessary, as well as the performance of the investigation, from the start of questioning to the end of the information-gathering stage. Along with the paperwork and the proper questions to ask, the authors provide ways investigators can assess credibility and evaluate evidence to help them reach proper conclusions. They round out their book with an explanation of the details that must be contained in a written investigative report as well as the remedial actions an organization can take.

While breaking down the process of investigating allegations of workplace harassment to its bare bones and explaining all of the actions that an investigator must take to get the best results for an organization, the authors also deal with training and mediation techniques to normalize and improve the work environment after an investigation. Sample forms, statements, and other practical information make this a coherent resource for any HR department to use if such an allegation should ever be made. Self-checks at the end of each chapter help readers test the skills they learn by offering relevant scenarios that involve sticky issues, and providing expert opinions against which readers can test their responses.

Why We Like This Book

Investigating Workplace Harassment takes the accumulated experience of two experts in the field, combines it with other expert advice, proven HR practices, and the law, and puts it all into a usable format that is easy to reference and fascinating to read. By taking real-world examples and distilling them into practical lessons for organizations to apply to a multitude of situations, the book offers valuable advice for those who want to improve their HR programs. The book's humane approach to its subject matter makes it an excellent training resource that can help any HR department effectively resolve a sensitive situation with compassion, honesty and fairness.

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