What to Do When an Internal Sexual Harassment Investigation Falls Short

Sexual Harassment: 5 Steps to Take When an Internal Investigation Falls Short

Not every sexual harassment investigation is thorough. Employers who attempt to circumvent, delay or avoid a thorough investigation, may be more concerned with avoiding liability than accepting responsibility.

When an employee files a sexual harassment claim, he or she should take every precaution to be well aware of the rights and protections afforded under both state and federal law, and to hold employers accountable for less than effective internal investigations.

Sexual Harassment Investigations: What the Law Requires

The law does not explicitly require an investigation into sexual harassment claims by your employer. However, most efficient company sexual harassment policy will include some type of inquiry into an employee’s in order to remain in compliance with EEOC regulations.

Your company’s HR department may have copies of the sexual harassment policy in place at your job. Be sure to review it, and ask questions if you have any. It’s important to become familiar with all company policy concerning sexual harassment and to make sure to participate in any sexual harassment training provided by your employer.

Your company’s policy should outline the necessary components and timeline for an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. It should also provide a good definition of what is and is not considered sexual harassment in your workplace and the consequences of engaging in unwelcome sexual advances. Most company policy mirrors federal or state law, and should be visibly posted in common areas of the workplace.

EEOC Sexual Harassment Investigation

Whether a sexual harassment claim is filed at the federal or state level, the EEO office will conduct its own investigation and provide employees with the outcome via written documentation.

The process begins once an employee files a claim. After a brief intake, the EEO office will conduct an investigation. During this time the agency may contact your employer for further inquiries, on site visits and even witness interviews. The average duration of most EEOC investigations is 10 months.

During the investigation the EEO is on the lookout for discrepancies between the employer’s actions and the laws on sex based discrimination at work. For sexual harassment claims, title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is of primary interest for federal cases. In addition, each state has sexual harassment laws in place that may either be addressed as sex discrimination or directly identified as sexual harassment.

Each EEO investigation concludes with a determination letter stating the outcome of the investigation. Ultimately the EEO office will make a decision regarding whether the case can receive the agency’s representation in court or should be issued a Notice of the Right to Sue. This will allow the employee to proceed to court with private representation by an experienced employments right attorney.

Even EEO investigation must comply with agency regulations. These investigations must remain private and confidential, and the agency must conduct a thorough investigation regarding whether there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred. Those who suspect the EEO investigation was less than ideal can contact an attorney regarding an appeal of the decision or further action.

What To Do When an Internal Investigation Falls Short

Find out the rules

Finding out the specific rules and provisions of company policy on sexual harassment may be the best way to establish a firm foundation for a claim. The best way to do this is to consult your employee handbook and speak with someone in the HR department. Ask for assistance with  clearly identifying your company’s sexual harassment policy and be sure that they clarify any areas or portions of the policy that you do not completely understand.

Contact your attorney

Although second on this list, contacting your attorney may need to come first in a sexual harassment case. Especially if you suspect your employer has failed to conduct a thorough investigation, an experienced attorney can be the most important component in addressing the issue.

Request a re-investigation

If your employer refuses to take your sexual harassment claim seriously, with the help of your attorney, you may need to make a formal request for a re-investigation. Often, an employer’s response may be to simply state that an investigation occurred without releasing any further details. Many employees feel they have a right to know how an investigation was carried out and why the final decision was made.

When an employer refuses to release investigation information, or if you have reason to believe the investigation was less effective than it should have been, a re-investigation may be in order. Even if the employer refuses, the very act can be noted and documented and may prove beneficial to your case in the future.

File a claim with the EEOC

If your employer continues to ignore a request for  a fair and thorough investigation into your sexual harassment claims it may be time to take the next step and file a formal claim with the state or federal EEO office in your area.

This ultimately means that a third party will now handle the investigation and opens your case up to objective and impartial scrutiny from a state or federal agency. The assistance of an attorney well-versed in sexual harassment law is essential for filing such claims.

Make appeals

You may not be able to appeal an internal investigation at your job if your sexual harassment policy does not include provision for it. However, you do have the ability to appeal an EEO decision. If you are not happy with the decision or outcome of an EEOC investigation, you must file an appeal within 30 days of the final decision in order to have your complaints heard.

If you need help with a sexual harassment matter, contact the experienced attorneys at Shegerian & Associates at 1-800-GOT-FIRED today.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.