Harassment – A Complaint Made Against Me

A complaint of harassment or sexual harassment has been made against me – what should I do?

 A complaint has been made against me – what are my rights?

 What is the informal route?

 What is mediation?

Mediation has been offered as a route to resolution – should I agree to try it?

What is a formal investigation?

What legal obligations does my employer have in relation to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace?

Do I have any legal obligations relating to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace?

A complaint of harassment or sexual harassment has been made against me but there is no Dignity at Work policy in my organisation – what should I do?

I am not satisfied with the outcome of the formal investigation into a harassment complaint that was made against me – what should I do?


A complaint of harassment or sexual harassment has been made against me – what should I do?


If you have been notified that a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment has been made against you by someone you encounter through work, you should:

  1. Obtain a copy of your Dignity at Work policy, read it carefully and become familiar with the policy and procedures contained therein.  The procedures will suggest a number of routes for resolution, an informal route, mediation or a formal investigation.
  2. Read the complaint carefully. Is it specific in nature? Does it cite examples of the behaviour(s) complained of, giving dates and times of the incidents?  If it is not specific in nature then ask for the specifics of the complaint to be provided to you.
  3. Consider the events objectively. 

a. If the complaint relates to harassment, is there evidence that:

i. The behaviour complained of was unwanted by the person and was based on any of the discriminatory grounds.  For a list of the nine discriminatory grounds, click here and

ii.  The behaviour violated the person’s dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him/her

b. If the complaint relates to sexual harassment, is there evidence that:

i.    The behaviour complained of was unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, and

ii.    The behaviour violated the person’s dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him/her

Remember even though the person may have previously accepted the behaviour, he/she can now decide that the behaviour is unwelcome – this relates to complaints of both harassment and sexual harassment.

  1. Take the time to write down in as much detail as possible your response to the allegations. Describe the circumstances of the events, give dates and times, give the names of witnesses and retain copies of any relevant documents such as emails, notes and so on.
  2. Seek any advice that you deem appropriate [union, medical, legal, our WorkplaceBullying Team], the costs of which will be at your own expense.
  3. Being accused of harassment or sexual harassment can be very stressful for you and your family so seek support from your organisation in any way possible, for example, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
  4. Remember, confidentiality is critical on your part.
  5. Co-operate with whatever process is determined to get a resolution.

If you need help to understand how to respond to a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment or are finding it difficult to navigate the procedures set out by your employer, WorkplaceBullying can help.  Contact us today for affordable, impartial and expert advice. 


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 A complaint has been made against me – what are my rights?


All employees have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work and to work in an environment free from harassment or sexual harassment by the employer, other employees or non-employees such as clients, customers, sub-contractors, business contacts and so on.

If someone you encounter through work has complained that you have harassed or sexually harassed them, you will find that the procedures for dealing with such complaints are generally detailed in your company’s Dignity at Work policy. These procedures must comply with the general principles of natural justice and fair procedures which include:

  • That the complaint/grievance is fairly examined and processed
  • That the details of the complaint are put to you
  • That you are given the opportunity to respond fully to any such allegations or complaints
  • That you are given the opportunity to avail of the right to be represented during the procedure
  • That you have the right to a fair and impartial determination of the issues concerned, taking into account any representations made by, or on behalf of, you and any other relevant or appropriate evidence, factors or circumstances

In addition, you have the right:

  • To be treated with fairness, sensitivity, dignity and respect throughout the process
  • To confidentiality – a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment is both serious and sensitive and all parties involved in the complaint and the resolution process are bound by confidentiality (that includes both you and the person making the complaint,  the mediator, investigator(s), HR personnel and so on)

You should also be assured of the organisation’s presumption of innocence of wrongdoing until the investigation is completed and you should be provided with support as required through the process.

If the matter proceeds to a formal investigation, there are specific guidelines with which the investigation process should comply. These should also be detailed in the procedure set out in your Dignity at Work policy. 


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 What is the informal route?


The informal route is where the person making the complaint or someone on their behalf (a Designated Contact Person or their Manager for example) approaches you directly and explains to you the behaviour that they find offensive and requests you to stop that behaviour.  This simple route is often the most effective way of resolving the issue.  


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 What is mediation?


Mediation is when a neutral third party facilitates a conversation between the parties in dispute and helps them find a resolution in a safe and equitable way. Mediation facilitates the resolution of the issue through communication and negotiation between the parties and promotes voluntary decision-making as a means to a mutually acceptable solution.  

Because mediation has a very high success rate and can resolve matters speedily and confidentially without recourse to a formal investigation it should, where possible, be attempted before moving to formal investigation. However, mediation does require the voluntary consent of both parties to engage in the process and must be carried out by a qualified mediator practiced in dealing with bullying at work issues.

Our mediators are fully accredited and we have a 98% success rate in workplace mediations. Click here to find out more on mediation and our mediation services.


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Mediation has been offered as a route to resolution – should I agree to try it?


Yes, you should seriously consider mediation.  Mediation is a very effective mechanism for resolving workplace conflicts, so much so, that it has been recently elevated to statute with the introduction of the Mediation Bill 2012.  Conflicts are usually resolved more rapidly through mediation than a formal investigation, however, mediation may not suit all conflict situations; for example, where there is a serious power imbalance between conflicting parties or where one party is not willing to participate in the process mediation cannot occur.

Our mediators are fully accredited and have a 98% success rate so don’t hesitate to contact us for help if you would like to try mediation or indeed for advice on whether mediation is appropriate in resolving the complaint.  Click here for more on mediation.


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What is a formal investigation?


Where the informal route or mediation are not possible or have been unsuccessful, the formal route towards resolution will be taken. An investigator (internal or external) will be appointed who should be impartial, have the appropriate training and experience and should be familiar with your Dignity at Work procedures.  The objective of an investigation is to establish whether the complaint falls within the definition of bullying at work and if so, whether or not, on the balance of probabilities, the behaviours complained of occurred.  Both you and the person or persons you have complained about and any other relevant witnesses will be interviewed in order for the investigator to ascertain the facts and reach a conclusion. The findings are provided in a written report.

The investigators must follow the procedures set down in your Dignity at Work policy which in turn must comply with the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice and the principles of natural justice and fair procedures.

What can WorkplaceBullying do for people in respect of formal investigations? Our Team of Experts can help you at any and every stage of the investigation process.


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What legal obligations does my employer have in relation to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace?


The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011 render the harassment and sexual harassment of employees unlawful. Your employer is legally responsible for the harassment and sexual harassment suffered by employees in the course of their work. Unless your employer took reasonable and practicable steps to prevent harassment and sexual harassment from occurring and/or recurring and to reverse their effects, your employer is at fault.

In short, your employer should have in place, at a minimum, a comprehensive, effective and accessible policy on harassment and sexual harassment. The policy should include a detailed complaints procedure. This policy is often termed a Dignity at Work policy.

In addition your employer should:

  • Ensure the effective communication of the policy to all employees and to other business contacts such as customers, contractors and so on
  • Ensure managers and others in positions of authority understand their particular responsibilities with regard to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment and in responding to complaints of this nature
  • Provide training to employees on issues of harassment and sexual harassment with particular emphasis on managers and others in positions of authority
  • Ensure the resolution of complaints is conducted in an effective and efficient manner
  • Monitor all incidents of harassment and sexual harassment and evaluate the effectiveness of the policy and procedures

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Do I have any legal obligations relating to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace?


While there are no legal obligations placed on employees, the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice recommends that the Dignity at Work policy should make it clear that employees can contribute to achieving a harassment- and sexual harassment-free work place by co-operating with management and trade unions in this regard. Every employee has a moral duty to co-operate with his or her employer to achieve a harassment- and sexual harassment-free work environment. The Code goes on to state that the Dignity at Work policy should include a statement that where a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment is upheld, this constitutes misconduct which should invoke the organisation’s disciplinary process which may in turn lead to disciplinary sanctions up to and including dismissal.


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A complaint of harassment or sexual harassment has been made against me but there is no Dignity at Work policy in my organisation – what should I do?


You should immediately:

  1. Approach the most senior person available to you (perhaps your manager, your HR manager, the CEO) and notify them of the absence of a policy and seek their help.  Your employer has a legal obligation to have a policy in place.
  2. Read the definition of harassment and sexual harassment and examples provided on this website.  You can also read the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice for additional information.
  3. Consider the events objectively

a. If the complaint relates to harassment, is  there evidence that:

i.    The behaviour complained of  was unwanted by the person and was based on any of the discriminatory grounds, and

ii.   The behaviour violated the person’s dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him/her?

b. If the complaint relates to sexual harassment, is there evidence that:

i.     The behaviour complained of was unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, and

ii.    The behaviour violated the person’s dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him/her?

Remember even though the person may have previously accepted the behaviour, he/she can now decide that the behaviour is unwelcome – this relates to complaints of both harassment and sexual harassment.

  1. Contact a member of the WorkplaceBullying team to assist you in making an informed decision on how to best respond to the complaint. [Click here for our contact details]
  2. Being accused of harassment or sexual harassment can be very stressful for you and your family so seek support from your organisation in any way possible, for example, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
  3. 6.    If your organisation fails to put a policy in place you should also contact the Equality Authority, which has a general remit to promote equality and can give advice.

If you require assistance with how to respond to the complaint in the absence of a policy, get in touch for expert, impartial and affordable help. Contact us.


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I am not satisfied with the outcome of the formal investigation into a harassment complaint that was made against me – what should I do?


Consider carefully why you are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation and if the procedure for investigation included an appeal stage:

  1. Refer to your Dignity at Work policy which should outline the procedure for an appeal of the investigation.
  2. Document clearly the grounds for the appeal – perhaps some of the evidence presented by you was not considered, or you have evidence that the investigator was not impartial for example.
  3. Make sure you submit your appeal letter within the timeframe and to the person specified in the policy.

Remember, an appeal does not involve a complete re-hearing of the investigation.  It will focus only on the grounds for the appeal as cited in your letter of appeal.  The appeal should be heard by a party (internal or external) that has not been involved in any aspect of the initial investigation.  If the person is being appointed internally, he/she should at least be at the same level of seniority as the original investigator but preferably more senior.  If your company is very small and this is not feasible then the company should appoint an external person to hear the appeal.  

WorkplaceBullying can help you make an appeal or respond to an appeal made against a decision in your favour. Click here to find out how we can help you with your appeal. 

Contact a member of the WorkplaceBullying team for further information and assistance with any of the following areas

  • General advice on how to respond to a complaint
  • Assistance with formulating your response
  • Advice on what to do in the absence of a policy
  • Mediation services
  • Advice and/or representation with formal investigation
  • Appeal of an investigation finding

We understand the stress an allegation of harassment or sexual harassment can cause you.  The very best way to respond is with expert information and advice from skilled professionals who are working for you.   Remember, the WorkplaceBullying team can assist you and act as your Advisor or Representative at any stage in the process or for the entire process.  Contact us.


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