Employers have a legal duty to provide a safe, harassment-free environment for their employees, independent contractors, suppliers and customers. Having such an environment is also good for business because it improves productivity and helps retain your best talent.
Be Sure You Have Written Workplace Conduct Rules That You Consistently Enforce.
Your workplace conduct rules need to be (i) written; (ii) clearly describe the conduct that is expected and forbidden; (iii) have an effective complaint procedure; (iv) make appropriate promises concerning confidentiality; (v) prohibit retaliation; and (vi) prohibit making false accusations.
The paragraphs below are from an actual Employee Handbook:
We will actively enforce our policies against workplace and sexual harassment. The policy applies to all conduct by any supervisor, manager, coworker, subordinate, vendor, client, or customer that affects an employee’s work environment. The company considers a violation of this policy a serious offense that may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including discharge.
Any employee who feels he or she has been subject to conduct that violates the workplace and/or sexual harassment policy should promptly take the following steps:
First, politely but firmly confront whoever is engaging in the bothersome conduct. State how you feel about his or her actions and request that the person cease the behavior immediately.
Second, if the conduct continues or if you don’t feel comfortable confronting this person, report the matter to your immediate supervisor. If this is not possible or comfortable (e.g., your supervisor is the person bothering you), report the behavior to____________ or to __________. Orally or in writing, give details of the behavior. It is helpful if details of dates, times, places, and witnesses, if any, of the conduct can be provided.
If you believe inadequate action has been taken to resolve your concern, go directly to ____________ (the company’s President).
All complaints will be investigated promptly and thoroughly, as appropriate. The identity of the employee making the complaint, as well as the identity of the individual accused of harassment, will be kept as confidential as possible. The company cannot promise absolute confidentiality, as it may have an obligation to report certain conduct to legal authorities.
The company prohibits retaliation against any individual who reports discrimination or harassment under our policies or participates in an investigation of such reports. Retaliation against an individual for reporting harassment or discrimination under our policies or for participating in an investigation of a claim of harassment or discrimination is a serious violation of this policy and, like harassment or discrimination itself, and if established, will result in disciplinary action toward the offender, up to and including termination of employment.
Given the harm that can be done to an individual who is falsely accused of discrimination or harassment, the company will take disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment against anyone who knowingly or in reckless disregard of the facts makes a false claim.
If you follow these recommendations, you will substantially reduce the risk of getting sued for workplace harassment.
Litigation costs can easily get into the mid six figures, and waste significant amounts of management time.
Please note: the above post contains educational information. It is not intended as legal advice. Engage an attorney who is licensed in your state to get advice on dealing with any specific legal issue.
© 2018 Michael S. Oswald