How to Handle Harassment in the Workplace
The ongoing list of high-profile harassment accusations in the workplace has made handling them properly more important than ever. Failing to respond quickly and carefully could open your company to significant liability and loss of employee morale.
Businesses must have a clear set of guidelines and action plan in place, in the event of an employee harassment complaint.
Harassment allegations can have a large impact on companies. They can increase workplace tension, create conflicts, result in lost productivity, and can even open your company up to liability if prompt action is not taken.
It’s important to understand the steps to take to properly handle allegations and keep your company’s exposure to a minimum.
Define Harassment and Investigate Claims
Harassment includes more than just unwanted sexual advances. As defined by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), harassment includes any unwelcome conduct that makes a work environment intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. It can also occur in different ways as defined by your state laws. It could take the form of visual or verbal harassment, physical harassment, or a hostile work environment.
No matter how the harassment occurs, if swift action isn’t taken, your company could encounter costly legal battles.
When any harassment claim is brought forth, make sure you let the employee know they will not face retaliation for coming forward. Start by reviewing relevant communication, including emails, notes, and exchanges. Depending on the level of the allegations, it may be advisable to bring in an independent third party to investigate.
Keep detailed documentation of the investigation as such documentation may later be reviewed in an administrative investigation. When asked, you want your business to have a legally justifiable reason for arriving at a decision.
Understand your legal obligations by consulting counsel on any applicable state laws as well as federal laws like the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
An experienced employment law legal team can help you understand the state and federal responsibilities required with a harassment claim.
Make a Knowledgeable Decision
Harassment claims are never easy to deal with. It can be hard to come to a decision regarding potential discipline when there isn’t a lot of physical evidence or witnesses’ accounts differ . While you are not a judge, there are a few different ways to handle the decision. This could involve moving the alleged offender to a different department, conducting sexual harassment training, or even termination.
Whatever you deem appropriate, remember to consult an attorney and have documentation to support your findings and ultimate action taken in response to the allegations.
Preventing Future Allegations
Allegations of harassment are serious situations that can leave your business vulnerable to legal action and hinder employee morale. Take the necessary steps to prevent harassment from happening. This starts by having the proper documentation in place, including your employee handbook. It should include the company sexual harassment policy, general harassment policy, and an overview of how complaints will be handled.
Provide multiple ways to report harassment. Employees may not feel comfortable if the only way to report a harassment allegation is through a direct manager or supervisor who may be the harassing party.
Hire an Employment Law Attorney
Investigating an allegation of harassment can be daunting if your company is not prepared. It can be easy to think the allegation isn’t serious, but a poor or delayed response to an allegation of harassment could open your company up to more liability if the victim is not happy with how the process was handled.
Maintaining compliance with employment laws can be tricky without proper legal guidance. Stibbs & Co. helps businesses navigate employment law to reduce potential liability. If your harassment protocols haven’t been updated recently, contact one of our employment law attorneys today. Our experienced team can help protect your company from harassment and lay the proper legal framework to navigate future unexpected legal challenges.