A sexual harassment investigation is a bad experience for most people involved. First and foremost, the victim must recount an embarrassing and potentially traumatic event. Co-workers must testify against co-workers or supervisors who might attempt to retaliate, and the HR department has to walk a tightrope to ensure that bad actors are held accountable but there’s not a rush to judgement before the allegations are substantiated.
Embarassingly, the events are often made public due to disclosure laws or court cases, and agency executives must discuss why they allowed the conditions that led to an environment where this behavior occurred. If the case is addressed in a public hearing, the questions are often even more pointed. Is this behavior a regular occurrence? Is it tolerated? Is agency leadership modeling this behavior?
All of this can sometimes make an agency executive want to drag an investigation out until they absolutely have to deal with it. It’s important to remember the alternatives to a well-conducted internal investigation, however. One example is Iowa, where executive agencies departments lost the responsibility of leading their own HR investigations due to an agency’s inability to figure out how to investigate its director.
After the state paid $4.5 million to two women who were sexually harassed by the director of the Iowa Finance Authority, all sexual harassment investigations were moved to the Department of Administrative Services. Formerly, these investigations were handled by individual executive branch agencies.
So far, the Department of Administrative Services has found that ten complaints of sexual harassment in executive branch agencies turned out to be founded in a single year. Prior to that, only three were determined to be founded over the past three years. This serves as further evidence that individual executive agencies were doing a poor job of self-regulation. As a result, the Department of Administrative Services is likely to retain the authority to handle sexual harassment allegations across the entire Executive Branch for some time. Agencies are no longer trusted to protect their own employees.
If your agency ever has an executive that seems to want to slow-play an investigation in an effort to avoid bad press, remind them of the Iowa example. While a few minutes of legislative heat and a few days of bad press aren’t any fun, it’s also not fun to be known for betraying employees, losing the trust of the state, and covering up terrible behavior.
To learn how CMTS:HR can help your HR department manage investigative cases more efficiently, call us at 919-747-3812 or email us at Team_CMTSHR@CMTSHR.com.