Consider this scenario.

An administrative assistant who’s been working solidly for the company for two years comes to you, as an HR manager, and says she’s been harassed by a manager over her looks. 

You need to talk with manager about the allegations.

What do you do? 

That’s the scenario posed in a recent article posted in HR Daily Advisor.  It’s a fascinating question, because too often, advice from attorneys in this situation is merely to "conduct an through investigation".  But how do you handle that awkward conversation with the manager?

The article suggests that the meeting with the supervisor be "direct, straight-forward, and non-judgmental", explaining that you’re obligated investigate any allegations of this type and that you have made no determination yet as to the merits. 

After explaining the situation, the article also suggests that you give the manager "an opportunity to describe his version of the events, and elicit any information that would rebut [the employee’s] version."

What else is suggested at the meeting? 

  • Explain the company policy, emphasizing the anti-retaliation provisions that your policy should have. 
  • If there is any inappropriate behavior that is acknowledged, the manager should be told to stop immediately.

In addition to the foregoing, I would add a few other tidbits:

  • Try not to make any promises regarding timing of the situation or the eventual outcome.
  • Tell the manager not to confront the employee directly about the allegations
  • Document everything.
  • If appropriate, have the supervisor confirm his position in writing.
  • Keep the process discreet.  Tell only those with a business need to know. 

Most of all, consider getting legal advice if you’ve never done this type of investigation before.  An hour’s worth of advice may save a year’s worth of litigation later on.