Best practices to minimize your risk of harassment in the workplace

Negative perceptions fade slowly and can seriously blemish the reputation and bottom line of any business, large or small. Minimize the risk, expense and negative publicity of a lawsuit for harassment in the workplace by taking 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 ensure your policy is up-to-date and comprehensive.
  • Roll out your harassment policy at a mandatory employee meeting. Emphasize your commitment to eliminate such behavior in your organization.
  • Conduct employee trainings that clearly explain prohibited behaviors and penalties that will result if they occur.
  • Conduct supervisor trainings stressing the importance of vigilance to recognize and stop harassment.

Avoid these common harassment misconceptions

Be sensitive to the “bear traps” and misconceptions that frequently ensnare even the most well-intentioned business owner: :

  • Realize and emphasize that sexual harassment isn’t limited to the way men treat women. Address the concept of “same-gender sexual harassment” isn’t  in trainings. Employees (and supervisors!) often think 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 otherwise. The Court said 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.
  • Educate 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.”
  • Address 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.
  • Realize 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 perform 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 and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.


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