California has strong laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, but not all employers are adept at handling sexual harassment complaints. In an ideal situation, HR will interview the person making a complaint as well as the alleged harassers and any potential witnesses. HR should also follow up with the person who made the complaint after the investigation is complete. Employees who make a complaint should not expect to find out whether the harasser was disciplined since personnel actions must be kept confidential. With that said, it is acceptable for an employee to follow up with HR to see if an investigation was conducted.
HR can sometimes respond to complaints of sexual harassment with hostility, but a lack of action could also be a sign that HR is not adequately trained on how to handle such complaints. It can be helpful to go to HR armed with evidence of the harassing conduct. This could include text messages, emails or phone logs. Employees should also document any instances of harassment in a personal journal at the time they happen.
Individuals who experience sexual harassment should also be prepared to tell HR the location of where any alleged harassment occurred, who witnessed it, if anyone, and what happened. It may make someone nervous to reveal all of these details to HR, but making a report to HR can help other employees who may face the same harassment in the future.
Employees may be more comfortable reporting harassment to a supervisor instead of HR, but it is important to know that any supervisor will have an obligation to report the harassment to HR. If a supervisor or HR fails to take action in response to a harassment complaint, employees may want to speak with a plaintiff-side employment law attorney about their legal options.