Workplace harassment is surprisingly common, and some careers put workers at an increased risk. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the most at-risk workers are tipped employees, immigrants with temporary visas or without legal immigration status, employees who have an isolated work environment (like janitors and hotel workers), women working in male-dominated industries and employees working in a setting with significant power differences.
A good employer shouldn't tolerate harassment and should encourage their workers to have open, honest conversations with human resources. They may even provide standard employee concern forms or harassment documentation forms in an attempt to nip things in the bud. Employees and employers alike need to know how to effectively document harassment claims, especially if a legal situation does arise.
Save the Digital Evidence
Some harassment has actual proof, and this is always more effective in a legal sense than memos written from memory. Request screenshots of any offending Slack chats, emails and texts. Print these out and place them in an HR file or attach them to an employee concern form. If the employee has inappropriate or offensive voicemails, make sure you save the recordings or, at the very least, transcribe them within a standard HR harassment documentation form.
Remember, illegal harassing behavior doesn't have to happen solely at work for it to be considered workplace harassment. Employees can have offending conversations on private mobile devices or outside of company hours, and you should request those chat records to use in your investigation.
Once you launch a full investigation into the incident, attach any physical records to your standard workplace harassment investigation form. This form holds HR accountable during the process.
Create Memos the Right Way
In most harassment cases, there’s nothing but a person’s memory to rely on. The best way to document this type of harassment is to create detailed memos directly after an offending incident happens. If you see any harassment taking place, create a memo that includes:
- An explanation of the events, including who was involved.
- The reaction to the situation.
- Whether or not you attempted to stop the offending behavior.
- If anyone else was present to witness the incident.
- The date and time of the incident.
Encourage your employees to do the same. You don't want to fire a harasser only to have them bring a legal case against your company for wrongful termination. You need proof.
Harassment can escalate, so it’s important to document it as it happens. Establishing a pattern of behavior can make or break a legal case. The more information you have, the better you'll fare.
Document Employee HR Meetings
You might not think it’s important to have a record of HR meetings, but it’s actually one of the most important things — especially if an employee decides to bring a lawsuit. As an employer, you need to be able to prove you appropriately handled any discrimination or harassment you witnessed. Start by documenting what goes on with detailed memos. Have a third party note-taker present during all HR meetings.
Offer Employees A Standard Harassment Documentation Form
Some HR departments have a standard workplace harassment investigation form or an employee concern form that workers can fill out to report behavior and aid in an investigation. You may want to make a standard form available to employees regardless of whether or not an incident has taken place. Let it be something that's there if anyone needs it.
Workplace harassment investigation forms usually include a series of questions. It might ask the employee things like:
- Did you try to stop the harassment? Why or why not?
- What kind of harm did you suffer as a result of the offending behavior?
- How did the alleged behavior make you feel?
- How did you react and why?
This also acts as physical proof that an employee filed a complaint and spoke to HR, which makes things a whole lot less murky in a legal case.
Read Up on Call-Recording Laws
You may be tempted to document harassment by recording phone calls, but this isn’t always legal. Some states require both parties to consent to the recording. Other states only require one person (i.e. you) to consent to the recording. Read up to find out what’s legal in your state.
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.