Investigation Procedures
last updated November 1, 2003

The complaints committee or designated complaints officer should take immediate action to investigate the complaint, with due regard for any time limits set by national legislation for initiating a civil complaint through the legal system. If the alleged conduct amounts to a specific criminal offense under law, the committee or officer should inform the appropriate law enforcement authorities.

If the alleged harasser denies the accusation, a thorough investigation should be conducted to obtain all relevant facts while taking care that the complainant is not disadvantaged and that the position of the alleged harasser is not prejudiced if the complaint is found to be unwarranted. Any witnesses should be identified. When interviewing the complainant, the alleged harasser and any witnesses, the interviewer should ask questions in a manner that is not accusatory, overly familiar or impartially supportive and should remind these individuals about the prohibition against retaliation. Any similar acts of harassment that allegedly occurred should also be investigated. The alleged harasser should be given an opportunity to tell his or her story and to identify all supporting witnesses.

It should be determined at the start of the investigation if the organization should take steps to prevent further harassment such as making scheduling changes to avoid contact between the alleged harasser and complainant, transferring the alleged harasser or placing the alleged harasser on non-disciplinary leave with pay pending conclusion of the investigation.

Once the investigation has been completed, the complaints committee or officer should report to the complainant and alleged harasser that the investigation has been completed and whether or not the investigation has yielded proof that the alleged harassment occurred. This communication should restate the organization's policy against harassment or retaliation and assure the complainant that no adverse action will be taken against her or him as a result of the complaint.

During and after the investigation of a sexual harassment allegation, the complaints committee or officer and the organization's management should make all possible efforts to keep the identities of the persons involved confidential and should review employment decisions affecting the complainant and witnesses to ensure that such decisions are not retaliatory in nature. The complaints committee or officer should keep all records relating to the harassment complaint confidential.

Please note that these recommendations must be revised to reflect applicable national and local law before they could be implemented by an employer.

Adapted from EU Code of Practice on Measures to Combat Sexual Harassment included in Commission Recommendation of 27 November 1991 on the protection of the dignity of women and men at work, Official Journal L 049, 1-8 (24 February 1992); EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Employer Liability for Unlawful Harassment by supervisors No. 915.002, 11-18 (June 18, 1999); Indian National Commission for Women, Code of Conduct for Workplace adopted in accordance with the recent Supreme Court Judgment on "Sexual Harassment of Women at the Work Place" Vishaka & others vs. State of Rajasthan and others (AIR 1997 SC 3011); South African National Economic Development and Labour Council, Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases; Canadian Human Rights Commission in cooperation with Human Resources Development Canada and Status of Women, Anti-Harassment Policies for the Workplace: An Employer's Guide (December 2001); and ABA, Mark I. Schickman, Sexual Harassment: The Employer's Role in Prevention.