While the public outrage may have died down, the prevalence of sexual harassment on the job has not. An employee who is a victim of harassment at work often feels unsafe and may even experience long-term physical and emotional consequences. As a business owner and employer, you likely do not relish the idea of defending yourself or someone on your management team from these allegations, but are you prepared for such a possibility?
Both men and women have faced such allegations, and the problem spans all industries, from fast food chains to the entertainment world, from small businesses to high finances. It is not smart to think you or your business is immune to accusations of sexual harassment, whether they are valid claims or not. Instead, you would be wise to have a strict no-harassment policy and a plan of action for dealing with every report of misbehavior.
Take every claim seriously
Preventing sexual harassment at your workplace begins with establishing a zero-tolerance environment. Your policies should be clearly spelled out in your employee handbook, posted where everyone can see them, and reviewed through frequent training meetings. If an employee approaches you with a complaint about someone on your staff, you should know exactly what your next steps should be. including:
- Assure the complaining employee of your attention to the matter and of his or her protection from retaliation
- Listen carefully and take notes as the employee relates the details of the alleged harassment
- Interview anyone who may have witnessed the incidents
- Interview the accused employee without making any rash judgments
- Discuss the situation with an attorney experienced in employment law matters
- Issue appropriate disciplinary actions if the conclusion of your investigation so warrants
- Follow up by discussing the resolution with both parties
- Review and revise your sexual harassment policies as needed
You have an obligation, both legally and ethically, to respond appropriately to any claims from an employee that he or she has experienced harassment on the job. Even if the complaint comes from a witness and not the alleged victim or is not submitted through formal channels, any rumor or suggestion that someone has crossed the line with one of your employees should immediately trigger an investigation.
Additionally, it will be critical that you keep written notes about every step of the process from the first interview with the employee. These notes may be an important part of any legal investigation or defense strategy if the harassment case should go to court.