Loss Prevention Investigative Skills are Key to Sexual Misconduct Cases

sexual harassment in retail

Conducting workplace investigations is one of the most challenging duties loss prevention teams take on. I continue to find it remarkable how those of us tasked with handling sensitive investigations understand what is appropriate and what is not.

We know about the elements that make an alleged retail crime an actual crime. We further understand both the law and internal policies well enough to accommodate factual findings, credible determinations and conclusions.

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As practiced professionals, we can seamlessly move through the selective interview process, into an interrogation, through a verbal and nonverbal accusation and back again. A skilled investigator assessing truthfulness often gains a passive admission without the target even knowing they have made a concession.

Our society is currently experiencing an unprecedented conversation about sexual misconduct in the workplace. Industries like entertainment, news and government have seen leaders—virtually all of them men—fall from grace. According to recent articles in LP periodicals, the retail workspace—even the loss prevention industry itself—is no exception.

As experts on investigations within their companies, LP staff have a real “value-added” opportunity—and perhaps an obligation—to gain a seat at the table regarding how sexual misconduct investigations are managed.

It is an easy transfer of skill to gain an understanding of the infractions at hand when it comes to harassment investigations. LP staff already have the intangible reputation, reliability and integrity for the job. Most likely, they have a willing partner in the human resources department with an equally strong interest in stopping workplace harassment. HR staff, however, might not have the same seasoned investigative experience as those in LP. It’s time for LP to get into the game.

When it comes to sexual misconduct investigations, there are generally three types of categories that are unacceptable in any workplace: harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Harassment is employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, it is based on unwelcome conduct related to age, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability and so forth. Conduct includes offensive jokes, slurs, intimidation, threats and bullying that interfere with work performance.

Sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual advances occur when a person rejects or submits to unwanted conduct that is then used as the basis for the employee’s performance evaluation. The creation of a hostile work environment is created when the unwelcome advances become a condition of employment or a quid pro quo that forces the victim to endure or participate in unwanted sexual conduct.

The third type of misconduct, sexual assault, is one that will often rise to a criminal violation. For this type of activity, it is best practice to engage with local law enforcement for potential criminal investigation and prosecution. The biggest mistake made at this level is when internal investigators fail to recognize that this is a criminal act and not just an internal harassment matter.

When conducting any level of harassment investigation, it is vital to be fair and—like all investigations— allow the deductive investigation process to lead actions even more so than other inquiries. Individuals’ livelihoods and reputations are at stake and it can often be a “he said, she said” situation. Be sure to seek out detailed statements that will help unearth information that can corroborate each party’s account.

As in all things loss prevention, repetitive employee awareness training along with clear policies and procedures are critical. LP teams along with their human resources counterparts can help gain a fresh perspective on this growing concern regarding the proper way for retail organizations to handle revelations of misconduct in the workplace.

It’s time to act with transparency, embracing authenticity and committing to changes in organizational culture to combat this issue. Loss prevention professionals’ investigative skills can lead the way.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in STORES magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.

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