Preventing Harassment and Dealing With It

In this era of “me too”, “time’s up” and growing harassment challenges, it is imperative that employers check their anti-harassment policies and clearly communicate them with descriptions of behaviors that may constitute harassment and examples. Although recent media coverage has focused on sexual harassment, policies should also prohibit conduct that may be based on age, race, religion, disability and other protected classifications.

It is important to maintain an atmosphere where employees are willing to bring harassment problems to the attention of the appropriate person, often a supervisor or the HR department. Any employee who becomes aware of another employee being subjected to harassment must report the conduct observed without fear of reprisal.

It is wise to conduct periodic harassment training for all employees. Training should include examples of intolerable workplace conduct. Remind employees that harassment may occur after work, off the premises and through electronic communications. Training of supervisors may be conducted separately and should stress that a supervisor’s failure to report harassment can lead to a lawsuit with the supervisor named as an individual defendant based on his/her failure to report.

Upon receipt of a harassment complaint (either orally or in writing and including anonymous complaints) a prompt investigation must be conducted. The parties involved must be interviewed and the allegations and determinations must be kept confidential to the greatest extent possible. Company policy should specify that a finding of harassing behavior may lead to discipline, up to and including discharge.

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