When interviewing a potential sexual harassment complaint client, understand that this is an emotionally trying situation for her. Approaching your client with compassion and without judgment is helpful in obtaining the necessary information to determine the truthfulness (versus perception) of the allegations and viability of the case from the outset.
Once you’re potential client is comfortable and focused enough to describe the incidents that may lead to a sexual harassment complaint, we suggest you follow a prepared allegations checklist, such as the one below.
Questions to ask the complainant in a sexual harassment investigation
- What has happened that you perceive to be sexual harassment?
- To the best of your recollection, using his/her words, what did she/he say to you that
made you uncomfortable?
- Did she/he touch you? In what way did she/he touch you? Where did she/he touch you
on your body?
- What was said between you two immediately before the incident?
- Where did this occur? If in the workplace, specifically where? Did it occur at a work-related function?
- At what time of the day or night did this occur?
- What was the context of the behavior? Did she/he treat it like a joke? What about his/her
behavior or words made you believe that she/he was serious?
- How would you describe your past relationship with him/her? How do you think she/he
would describe it? If there is a difference, why is there such a difference?
- Did you ever socialize (e.g., have dinner or lunch) with him/her alone or in a group?
- Did you participate in the same company-sponsored extracurricular activities?
- Did you ever date this person? If so, what was the outcome, and why?
- How long have you known each other? Who else would know of your relationship?
- Did you ever say or do anything in the past that made it clear to him/her that you might
object to this behavior?
- How would she/he know you object to it now? What did you say or do that would have
told him/her that? Did she/he seem surprised at your response?
- What is the atmosphere like in the workplace? Is there a lot of joking or teasing with
sexual innuendo? Are there any sexually explicit materials on the walls or desks?
- Are there many close relationships between the employees in your work group? Did your
manager know about this closeness? How would she/he have known?
- How has the behavior affected you? Have you had a problem with your raises,
performance appraisals, and opportunities for promotions, job assignments or other
aspect of work?
- Have you ever raised a complaint with management? When was that, and what were the
circumstances? What ultimately happened? Did you feel comfortable with the outcome?
- Did you wait for any period of time before reporting the incident? If so, why? What
made you decide to come forward now?
- Are there any witnesses to the incident?
- Did you tell anyone about the incident at the time or since? If so, who, and what did you
- Are you aware of anyone else in the workplace that may have had a similar experience
with the same person? Who is that and how did you discover that she/he had a similar
- What do you want to get out of this investigation? If it were up to you, what would the
ideal solution be?
- Do you understand what will happen next and how the investigation will continue?
- Do you feel comfortable returning to your work group, or would you like us to look into
alternatives for you?
After interviewing the complainant, move to speak to employee witnesses.
Cover the “who, what, where, when and how” questions first to establish a clear sequence of events. Ask for specific details of location, time, and conversations.
Then, ask for any other information they can provide that might help you find out what happened.
- Did you see [the complainant] immediately after the alleged incident? What was their expression?
- Did [the complainant] tell you about this incident or did you see/hear it first-hand? What did they tell you, when, and where?
- Do you know if this was a singular incident or recurring?
- Is there anyone else who might have information about this incident?
Request any documentation that is relevant to the investigation, such as emails and time sheets. These can help you piece together the employee’s whereabouts during the time of the incident, their behavior towards the complainant, and more.
Next week’s Beacon Bulletin will cover Part II- Keeping The Sexual Harassment Investigation On Track and Evidence Gathering and Preservation.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, Stay safe.