Every church should have a carefully crafted and legally sound policy to address sexual harassment. Such a policy can help guide and protect the church in case an accusation of harassment by an employee surfaces. It can also help prevent abuse from taking place at all.
Once you have a policy in place, your church is in a much better position, both in terms of fostering a healthy workplace culture and in maintaining a sound legal position. However, should an allegation arise, your church must stand ready to follow the policy and shrewdly respond. Use the following seven steps to conduct a proper investigation for your church.
1. How to receive complaints
First, church leaders must be receptive to receiving a complaint. Do not treat a complaint as a nuisance created by the reporter. Along the same lines, do not promise punishment for the accused until you have investigated the allegation. In other words, it is important that the church treats the complainant and all parties involved with respect. While it is too early in the process to promise a result (dismissal or exoneration of the alleged offender, and so on), it is important that you take this matter seriously and assure everyone that a full and fair investigation will be undertaken.
Before further discussing the investigative process, it is important to note here that not all complaints are made through a formal channel. Sometimes they are given informally. Churches still must be vigilant to understand when this is happening and direct this situation into the proper channels. For instance, if an employer is made aware of sexual harassment, either through informal conversation with an employee or through observing this behavior directly, the employer should begin to take action. If no action is taken, courts will likely find that the employer “knew or should have known” about the problem and may impose liability on the employer. In such a situation, the employer should probably respond by seeking to establish a formal complaint and have the known victims or witnesses to record their accounts in writing. Likewise, if you have a sexual harassment policy and the employee/victim does not report an alleged incident, then the church will be able to raise a defense if a lawsuit is later filed.