How to respond
If a complaint has been made against you, it is important that you take this seriously, review your behaviour and see how it may have been considered sexual harassment. Reflect about what has been said or done, how often this has occurred and how the person making the complaint might be feeling, or what they, or others affected by the behaviour, may be thinking.
Remember that even if what you did was unintentional, you could still be held responsible because sexual harassment is viewed from the perspective of the person who has been affected and an employer needs to take steps to address these behaviours.
If someone has contacted you to address the issue informally, you should acknowledge how they feel and agree on certain outcomes with them in writing, for example, an agreement not to behave the same way again. If your company has policies and procedures on sexual harassment in place, you should read them and follow their guidance. If you agree to stop the behaviour and then do it again, you will likely be subject to disciplinary action by your employer.
If your behaviour was unintentional and not continuous, you could always write to the applicant, explain your behaviour, apologise and agree not to repeat the behaviour. This may clear any misunderstanding. The complainant may accept your apologies.
You need to check whether there will be an ongoing investigation and how any apology or agreement will be treated within that investigation. You can seek advice from an employment advocate or lawyer at any point before you acknowledge or respond to a sexual harassment complaint, whether it is an informal or formal complaint.
If the above is not possible, let your manager know immediately. Your company may start a formal investigation.
If your company starts a formal investigation, you should ask for the following:
- the complaint to be dealt with confidentially
- a written copy of the complaint and any other documents related to it, including documents related to any investigation already made.
- what will be the process for dealing with the complaint
- what will be the consequences to your employment
- an independent investigator
- the terms of reference of any complaint
- the expected timeframe for resolving issues
- if a complaint has been raised with the Employment Relations Authority or the Human Rights Commission (the complainant has to choose one or the other).
You or your manager should also consider temporary measures, including:
- being reassigned to other duties or relocated to another part of the business until the investigation is complete
- taking a voluntary leave of absence until any investigation is complete
If you need to talk in confidence with someone, you can also contact: