Sexual Harassment Investigations – the pain of knowing sensitive HR

by | Jun 8, 2011 | Blog, HR Issues, Human Resources

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

TMI , The Pain of Knowing Things You Wish You Didn’t –

Another Reason Why You Should Not Investigate Sexual Harassment Claims

Here’s basically how the conversation went a year or two ago.  I was coaching a client, an HR Manager, on handling one of her first sexual harassment investigations.  She really wanted to do it herself, and upper management wanted everything handled in house, so I  coached and counseled from the sidelines.  Until it came to the photographs.

Yes – the photographs.  A manager had a relationship of the naughty variety with a staff employee (not a direct report) and they chose to take some snapshots to memorialize the occasion.  The company was a small company with a lot of family employees and long time employees and, at the time, they had chosen not to forbid romantic relationships, so no rules were actually broken with the consensual activity.

However, the photographs.  The manager involved decided to share these photos with another manager while at work.   Ah, yes,  —  we crossed good judgement long ago but now rules definitely have been broken.  The second manager immediately wanted no part of this and reported it.

So, here we are.  Manager in relationship in big trouble for sharing pictures.  Employee in relationship really isn’t in trouble because, although she really didn’t exercise the best of decisions in engaging in the relationship and taking the pictures, she is now a victim because the pictures were shared at work.  So, my protégé is doing a fine job with the interviews and the documentation and the procedure until . . .

“Have you seen the photographs?” I ask.  Dead silence on the phone.

I ask again.  “Have you seen the photographs?”  I think I begin to actually feel the heat from the redness in her cheeks.

I explain to her.  I know that no one wants to see the pictures.  But the fact of the matter is that the sharing of the photographs is, according to their company policy, the only thing the manager did that was a violation.  At this point, the second manager is the only one who says that they’ve seen them and that the first manager showed them.   The first manager is denying that they were anything inappropriate.  HR has to decide if this is a termination offense.  Someone has to see the pictures.

But – the employee in the pictures isn’t going to be disciplined or terminated.  HR doesn’t want to see the pictures.  She’s still going to be at the company picnics and she’s still going to be sitting across the desk at review time.  Owner of the company plays golf with her Dad.  CEO’s  kid was on the same softball team with her.   No one in upper management wants to see those pictures.

don’t want to see those pictures, either.  But odds are that I won’t be seeing that employee after this.  And if I do – she won’t know that I was the one who saw the pictures.

That’s because I, as their HR consultant, am that impartial third party.   

So, this is just another reason why you, as the company representative, shouldn’t investigate sexual harassment claims.  You should have a third party consultant handle all your investigations.  In addition to providing the impartiality, the experience, the procedures and processes,  the removal of emotions from the situation, and all the other sound business reasons that suggest  you bring us in to do your internal investigations, there’s this —

Life goes on after the investigation.

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