Q: We’ve become aware of an allegation that an employee has been harassed at work, but the employee doesn’t want to file a complaint. Do we need the employee’s consent to investigate the matter?
A: If you or any of your managers become aware that harassment, discrimination, workplace violence, or any other illegal activity has or may have occurred, you are legally required to investigate and take steps to stop the behavior. Knowing about this kind of behavior (and taking insufficient action) can make you liable, so you should investigate and stop any questionable behavior even if the victim doesn’t want to cooperate.
That said, if the employee merely has a general gripe or complaint that seems to indicate a simple personality conflict, then you may defer to the employee’s wishes on whether to act. Minor conflicts between employees may cause discontent in the workplace, but they don’t obligate you as the employer to investigate and resolve the issue.
Over the past seven years, US companies have paid out more than $295 million over sexual harassment claims. Download our free guide "Identifying and Preventing Workplace Harassment" to learn preventative measures you can take to create a safe and comfortable workplace and, ultimately, a culture of respect.