In the past few years, we have written several articles on sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement. In recent weeks there have been more charges of sexual misconduct and egregious behavior from prominent persons in entertainment and politics. This serves as a reminder that as a nation, we still have work to do.
As mentioned in previous articles, the goal of any organization in relation to harassment is prevention and not just how to proceed with an investigation. Often, the calls to HR Services deal with unprofessional or discourteous behavior and not necessarily actions that rise to the level of being illegal. However, no workplace should condone actions that make someone feel demeaned, fearful, and/or belittled.
It is also paramount to remind your staff that it is not just illegal behavior that will not be tolerated. You want to state that the organization clearly and unequivocally will not tolerate a culture that permits poor conduct, including the use of demeaning words and gestures. You want to highlight a culture of positive behavior where you encourage and support a focus on respecting others and their differences. You want to promote creativity and acceptance of diversity, which is designed to ensure a workplace that values respect for others. Our differences can make a wonderful workplace where acceptance brings us together.
Design a workplace where discussions take place when someone feels uncomfortable with a coworker’s comments or actions. This requires a safe environment where there is trust and respect for others and their opinions. This allows for employees to safely voice their concerns without fear of retaliation or escalation of the behavior.
More and more states are passing laws mandating anti-harassment training in the workplace. Some states, like New York, have requirements that include “Bystander Intervention Training,” which empowers employees with the knowledge and information to say something when they see behavior that is wrong. Even if your state or locality doesn’t have a law requiring anti-harassment training, there have been several federal court cases that apply nationally.
Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth both provide precedent that an employer could avoid liability for a “hostile environment” if it could prove that: (1) the employer took reasonable care to “prevent and correct promptly” any harassing behavior; and (2) the harassment victim unreasonably failed to complain. These ruling show that not only is a strong policy and procedure needed, organizations also must be proactive and provide training to educate staff.
Many employers have anti-harassment policies and basic procedures to handle complaints of harassment in employee handbooks. However, if you do not, please don’t hesitate to give us a call or visit the Knowledge Library. We can provide you with sample policies you can adapt to update and strengthen what you may already have. It’s wise to include a consultation with a licensed employment law attorney whenever you add or change a policy in your organization.
As a reminder, the following are steps that should be included in your policies and procedure should you have a complaint of unprofessional behavior:
- Have a strong well-crafted complaint procedure. Make sure you have clear policies regarding the complaint procedure. Specify how and to whom an employee can take their complaint. Provide your employees with a clear and multi-channel complaint procedure for reporting potential violations or wrongdoing.
- Investigate promptly. You should consider calling a labor attorney before starting the investigation to maintain attorney-client privilege. Make sure you follow well defined, clear, and necessary procedures to investigate complaints in a very timely manner. Don’t delay the investigation, start the clock as soon as possible.
- Discipline appropriately. Not all allegations of harassment and bad behavior are terminable offenses. Be fair and consistent in your practices.
- No retaliation. Do not forget to inform employees of and enforce your no retaliation policy. No one’s employment status should be adversely affected as a result of bringing concerns or complaints of harassment, whether unacceptable or illegal, to their employer
Remember, your Trust membership or subscriber status gives you unlimited access to HR Services. Contact us at (800) 358-2163 or HRServices@501c.com for any questions you may have regarding this subject or any other HR situation you may have.