Minimize Your Risk
Negative perceptions are slow to fade and can seriously blemish the reputation and bottom line of an enterprise, large or small. But you can minimize the risk, expense and negative publicity of a harassment suit by taking a few proactive steps:
• Develop a clear and concise written policy against sexual and other harassment. Don’t attempt to write this on your own. A good labor attorney or human resources consultant will be sure that your policy is up-to-date and comprehensive.
• Roll out your harassment policy at a mandatory employee meeting and emphasize your commitment to eliminate such behavior in your organization.
• Conduct employee trainings that clearly explain the prohibited behaviors and the penalties that will result if they occur.
• Conduct supervisor trainings stressing the need to be vigilant in recognizing and stopping harassment.
You’ll need to be sensitive to the “bear traps” that frequently ensnare even the most well-intentioned business owner. These can be avoided by:
• Realizing and emphasizing in your trainings that sexual harassment isn’t limited to the way men treat women. All too often, the concept of “same-gender sexual harassment” isn’t explained and your employees (and supervisors!) may be left with the idea that as long as we’re all of the same gender, anything goes! But in 1998 the United States Supreme Court (Oncale vs. Sundowner Offshore Services) ruled that the humiliating behaviors that Joseph Oncale suffered at the hands of his fellow male employees wasn’t “just male horseplay” as the men and their supervisors claimed, but was indeed same-gender sexual harassment.
• Educating your supervisors to realize that smiling faces aren’t the determining factor. Victims often laugh along with their tormentors to mask the embarrassment and degradation they truly feel. Supervisors must step in and squelch the behavior regardless of the levity in the room. Many a court case has been lost because a supervisor “failed to take action.”
• By addressing allegations of harassment in a timely fashion. Postponing your investigation for days or weeks makes it appear that you are minimizing the situation. Most employers invoke the “two-hour” rule; i.e., if a formal allegation of abuse or harassment comes to your attention, take steps to initiate an investigation within two hours.
• Realizing that your employees can suffer harassment at the hands of customers and vendors as well as from co-workers. Even your best customer must be told to desist when they have crossed the line. Remember that when vendors or clinicians are performing work at your facility, protecting them from harassment while on-site becomes your responsibility!
• Ensure that victims and witnesses are protected from retaliation and intimidation during and after your investigation
By taking the necessary steps to prevent sexual and other harassment in your workplace, you’ll not only save time, money and your business’s reputation – you’ll also demonstrate to your employees that their dignity, self-respect and security is important to you.
When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program
give us a call: 800-535-4841.