Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behavior toward another person. If someone in your workplace makes a sexual harassment claim, you have a responsibility to investigate this unlawful behavior or face penalties for failing to protect your employees, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Violators and Victims

Regardless of the harasser’s intent, as long as the victim perceives the behavior as sexual and unwanted, your organization must follow up on a complaint. Sexual harassment can be as subtle as complimenting a coworker’s figure or physique, or as blatant as a supervisor requesting sexual favors from a subordinate in exchange for a job promotion.

Victims are both men and women, as well as people of the same sex as the harasser. Likewise, harassers can be either gender. Harassers and victims can be people outside the workplace, as well, such as customers, clients and vendors.

Zero-Tolerance Policies

Sexual harassment is part of the broad term the EEOC calls “harassment.” The agency requires employers to “effectively prevent and correct harassment” by adopting written anti-harassment policies, distributing them to all employees and posting them on bulletin boards and in common work areas. Your policy should state that your company doesn’t tolerate harassment of any kind and outline disciplinary actions. The EEOC extends zero-tolerance policies to include harassment based on gender, sex, race, age, national origin, disability, religion or genetic information under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of1964. Your policy also should state that your company doesn’t tolerate retaliation against anyone who makes a harassment claim or takes part in an investigation.

Employee Complaints

The EEOC advises that you encourage employees to report sexual harassment to management as soon as it occurs and before it escalates. Designate one person to take complaints to make reporting uncomplicated. Supervisors and managers should report complaints to company officials outside an employee’s chain of command in case a fellow supervisor is the harasser. Keep employees’ complaints as confidential as possible.

Employer Investigation

Interview the employee making the charge, the alleged harasser and anyone who might have been aware of, or a witness to, the harassment. Following up promptly, thoroughly and impartially keeps the harasser from controlling the investigation, say EEOC officials.

Your goal is to stop the harassment immediately -- whether you are certain it’s occurring or not. The EEOC recommends transferring the alleged harasser elsewhere, away from the complainant; changing work schedules so the parties avoid contact; or putting the alleged harasser on paid leave until you complete your investigation.

Corrective Action

If you find that harassment occurred, take immediate disciplinary action that suits the violation. For example, a supervisor who promises to promote a subordinate in exchange for sexual favors would probably need to be fired. An employee who makes an unwanted compliment about a coworker's legs might need to be suspended.


By law, supervisors are responsible for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC holds your organization liable for a supervisor’s action and could file a lawsuit against you on behalf of the alleged victim.