Sexual harassment

Procedures for supervisors and HR managers

It is in everybody’s best interests, your team’s as well as your own, that you react immediately in case of sexual harassment at the place of work or study and

  • Take the problem seriously
  • get an idea of the situation immediately
  • maintain a strictly neutral approach for the time being
  • get support and advice from superiors or the HR department as quickly as possible

Step 1: Active listening

Be aware of the fact that possibly a lot can have happened before this actual conversation. Acknowledge the courage it took for this person to contact you. Take the time to listen carefully. Respect the individuality of the person concerned, their particular (and subjective) experience and their perhaps limited possibilities of distancing themselves. Try to put yourself in their position and do not judge by your own standards. Alert the person concerned early on to the fact that you will be obliged to fulfil your duty to inform the authorities and to ensure the welfare of the victim in case of serious violations. This means that you will not always be able to act confidentially, but that under certain circumstances you will have to clarify the accusations and impose sanctions, as well as informing other responsible parties. At the same time point out the contact point to the person concerned, so as to enable them to seek additional advice in absolute confidentiality if they wish to do so.

Step 2: Consolidation

Now ask more accurate questions: What happened? Who harassed? Where, since when, how often? Is there any proof like emails or written communication? Are there any witnesses? The conversation should not be an interrogation. But you should keep in mind that you will probably have to clarify things and that you will presumably hear quite another story from the other side. Ask the victim what her or his expectations are towards the harasser and towards you as the responsible person.

Step 3: Statement

Give your opinion on what you have heard. Show your readiness to take action, to protect and support the victim. But do not get carried away by taking sides prematurely. Presumed innocence is a guiding principle. The person accused has the right to be heard, and in talking to same, there some facts might emerge which cast a new light on the story.

Step 4: Conclusion of the conversation

Keep the minutes of the conversation and have them signed. If the person concerned specifically asks you not to take action in case of minor accusations, please record this request explicitly in the minutes. In case of minor accusations – e.g. stupid remarks – ask the victim if they want to take action themselves or if you should take over from the beginning. Let the victim know about the further steps you are taking and promise them a feedback at a fixed point in time concerning further proceedings. Encourage the victim to get back to you if any additional incidents occur. Inform the victim that according to the law on equality she or he will be protected against dismissal due to her or his report until the complaint is settled and for six months thereafter. If you are uncertain, get assistance from the HR department or from the external contact office.

Step 5: Hearing of the accused

Invite the accused for a statement. Take exact minutes and have them signed. If the accused admits to the charges and if they are not that serious, check with the victim if there is a possibility of a consensual settlement like a clarifying talk or an apology. In case of grave harassment you are obliged to impose sanctions and to register the incident in the personnel records. If the accusations are contested or if new facts come to light during the discussion according to which the victim only told half of the story and did not mention their own involvement in the entanglement, an in-depth investigation is called for, possibly an internal procedure. Contact the HR department.

Step 6: Feedback, possible conclusion

After your enquiries and possible measures taken contact the person who made the complaint and inform her or him of the state of affairs. Encourage the victim to fight back in future or to contact you. Ask the victim from time to time if everything is okay and set a date for a short follow-up. If no settlement is possible, inform those concerned of the necessity of a deeper investigation, but also of the fact that you will not be the person conducting it.