Five Steps in Responding to Sexual Harassment Claims
Vol. 6 No. 7
Sexual harassment and assault claims need to be treated swiftly and delicately. Failure to manage sexual claims appropriately can lead to fines and lawsuits. The following five steps will help your school reduce its legal risks.
1. Don’t hesitate.
Once a claim is reported, you must respond as quickly as possible to start your school investigation and to set up measures that prevent the harassment from continuing.
2. Document EVERYTHING.
Your investigation needs to follow your school’s policy on handling sexual assault and harassment claims thoroughly with documentation of each step of the process. Remember, your documentation and protocol will become part of the police investigation (which is conducted separately from your school investigation) so missteps in your claim management could make your school liable.
3. Separate parties involved.
While investigations are ongoing, separate the persons involved in the claim. If it’s a student/faculty claim, this may mean adjusting the student’s schedule or temporarily suspending the faculty member (with or without pay) until the case is concluded. If it’s an employee/employee claim, both employees may need to be suspended until the case is concluded, or duties and projects may have to be shifted.
Everyone involved in the investigation deserves to know what is happening and how the process will proceed. Although your policies and protocols are printed in both your employee and your student handbooks, communicating with the persons involved about next steps and the investigation’s current findings is important. Document EVERY conversation!
Depending on the “level” of harassment and your school’s policy, after you conclude the investigation there will be measures your school will have to take. For example, if a claim is made against your sports coach for inappropriate touching, but, in your investigation you find it was shoulder slapping, “good job, guys” behavior that made the athlete uncomfortable, you might not choose to fire your coach. Instead, you would document the situation and have a conversation with your coach about behaviors that are appropriate on campus.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 5 No. 8 Sexual Misconduct on Campus Part I: Defining Sexual Misconduct
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 5 No. 10 Sexual Misconduct on Campus Part II: Background Checks
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 6 No. 1 Sexual Misconduct on Campus Part III: Best Practices, Professional Development and Policy
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 26 No. 6 Sexual Orientation, Harassment, and Victimization: Establish a Safe Environment
I&P Vol. 26 No. 6 Sexual Orientation, Harassment, and Victimization: Resources for Administrators and Teachers