sexual harrassment

Who is the best person to conduct a sexual harassment investigation?

Who is the best person to conduct a sexual harassment investigation?

Investigations into sexual harassment claims have been in the media spotlight lately, with a number of high profile cases that reinforce the need for effective processes and the importance of engaging the right person to conduct a sexual harassment investigation.

With the misconduct of both a former High Court Justice and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide making front page news in recent months, AMP has also found itself under scrutiny, following claims of poor processes to handle sexual harassment complaints.

All these instances demonstrate the importance of conducting effective investigations into these workplace complaints, particularly when the person at the centre of the allegations is in a senior position.

The AMP scandal centred on a money manager who was promoted, despite being fined for harassment. To deal with that claim by a former female employee, the organisation had engaged a London QC, an expert in employment law who had concluded that there was only a low level breach of the company’s code of conduct

The fallout from the situation ultimately resulted board level resignations and further claims of flawed processes. Most recently, claims were aired under privilege in Federal Parliament by Senator Deborah O’Neill about another female employee being silenced and forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement following her harassment claim.

Clearly, these circumstances were poorly handled, and have not worked out well for the complainants or the organisation. So how could things have been better dealt with?


The benefits of engaging an investigator over a lawyer

In responding to the AMP situation, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, has questioned the practice of engaging lawyers to deal with such allegations. While barristers and other legal practitioners bring a strong focus on evidence, they do not necessarily have the full range of expertise to best manage this kind of investigation.

Jenkins went on to identify other important skills that were often overlooked here. Regarding the AMP investigation, she commented: “The processes were overly legalistic, they were adversarial and not really appropriate for the nature of the problem.”

As an alternative, the Commissioner suggested organisations should consider hiring those with broader experience and specific trauma training to better inform the approach to an investigation.

These are just some of the benefits that a professional investigator would bring when responding to a complaint; someone who can act with independence and also has the skillset to deal with the complexities of the entire situation.

What to look for when engaging an investigator

More than anything, independence is crucial in these situations. This can be particularly challenging when the allegations are levelled at a person with a senior position in the company.

Jenkins expressed concerned that businesses can be motivated to limit media fallout rather than dealing with the harassment itself. But she hopeful that matters such the AMP situation represents a change in the way complaints will be dealt with.

Essentially, organisations are now seeing what happens when complaints are not sufficiently handled.

The highest priority, therefore, has to be engaging an investigator who is unbiased and free from conflicts of interest. They must have the skills to be able to lead inquiries, and conduct effective interviews, particularly dealing with those who have endured trauma in the workplace. Their conduct must also be able to withstand scrutiny, should the matter escalate further.

How MyKludo can help with engaging an investigator

To find out about the services MyKludo offers or to engage someone to suit your investigation needs, contact us.

You may also be interested in watching Harriet Witchell, CEO of MyKludo discussing How to respond to sexual harassment complaints, in a recent webinar. The full webinar can be viewed via the link. Watch the webinar now.

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