When Harassment Allegations Are Not Substantiated
What do you do when a workplace investigation does not support the allegations of harassment? We believe understanding the reasons why and the underlying dynamic will go a long way in guiding employers towards making the right decisions following such investigations.
In cases where harassment allegations are made and the ensuing investigation does not lead to a finding that substantiates the allegations, a number of reactions from the parties may result. Respondents often want some form of redemption and sometimes they want to file their own complaints of harassment, suggesting the allegations against them, since “proven false” are themselves a form of harassment. Complainants who truly believe they were harassed and then obtain a finding that does not support that belief, assume the investigation was flawed in some way and want a new investigation or point the finger of blame on the investigator or a flawed policy.
These two potential issues arise in many cases where there is not a finding that substantiates the harassment allegations. When there is a clear finding of harassment the choices for dealing with that situation are often clearer and easier to implement. However, when there is not a clear finding of harassment the options for resolving the conflict may be limited and the damage caused to the relationship between the parties may be difficult to repair. What follows is a description of some of the reasons why there might not be a finding of harassment. Understanding these reasons may help in determining what resolutions make sense to assist the parties going forward.
Misunderstanding what constitutes harassment
There is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding around the issue of harassment. While there may be inappropriate conduct taking place, the conduct may not meet the threshold for a finding of harassment. For example, things such as constant complaining about trivial issues, being loud in the workplace, and frequently interrupting co-workers in meetings. These may be conduct issues that need to be addressed, but generally they are not considered harassing. Management intervention is also frequently misunderstood to be harassment. Performing typical managerial functions such as assigning and appraising work is not harassment. How this is communicated however, can lead to crossing the line and give rise to the potential for harassment or perceptions of harassment. Investigators often have to spend time with complainants educating them on what constitutes harassment. If this is not handled delicately, investigators can quickly be accused of bias. Employers need to educate their employees generally on harassment and have clear policies defining harassment and even providing some examples of what is and is not harassment.
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