Addressing Fear of Retaliation in Workplace Harassment Investigations

Supporting whistleblowers protects everyone

Posted by Timothy Dimoff in on February 26th, 2019

Workplace investigations, especially ones involving sexual or other forms of harassment, often call for the gathering of statements from the employee who was harassed, co-workers and other employees. A deterrent to obtaining factual and important information can often be attributed to fear of retaliation. Formal reporting is still the least common response among those who have experienced harassment at work.

Anonymous reporting hotlines can help whistleblowers feel protected, but only if reports are handled properly. Download our free cheat sheet on Handling Anonymous Complaints to find out how.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) estimates that 75 per cent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported. In 2016, the EEOC released a study of workplace harassment in the United States, which concluded that “anywhere from 25 per cent to 85 per cent of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”

This may even be a conservative estimate. It has been statistically predicted that one in four people are affected by workplace sexual harassment. What’s even more alarming is that it is estimated that 75 per cent of harassment victims experienced some form of retaliation when they spoke up.

Fear of Retaliation

It is important to understand the fear of retaliation when you are trying to obtain the information you need during an investigation. It can prevent someone from reporting harassment, allowing it to continue and contributing to employee turnover and even possible legal action.

There are many laws and regulations that protect employees from retaliation, but in order to conduct an effective and factual investigation, you must also address why the fears exist. You need to know if your company’s managers and supervisors actually do punish employees who complain or bring an issue to the forefront.

Even if retaliation is not common in your organization, these fears may still exist. Understanding them will help you to act appropriately and get the information you need when conducting your investigation.

Supporting the Whistleblower

Here are some tips to help you:

  • Always treat the whistleblower with respect. If they think you view them as a troublemaker you will never get the information you need.
  • Be open to what they have to say. Be encouraging and supportive. They are afraid and need to feel secure.
  • Assure them that their job is not in jeopardy due to them coming forward.
  • Assure them that they will not be punished in any way for reporting this information.
  • If necessary, set up an anonymous way to report issues. This could be a hotline, a drop box or other form of reporting. The goal is to have any issues reported.

If you respect the whistleblower, often it will pay off in others coming forward as well.

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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