Practical Steps Employers Should Take to Avoid Harassment Claims
The seemingly endless wave of harassment claims in the news has caused employers to wrestle with the notion of precisely what they can do to improve the workplace atmosphere and avoid claims of harassment.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of practical, concrete steps that employers – almost regardless of size – should considering taking to prevent or, as the case may be, to defend claims of harassment.
- Regularly conduct harassment training for all employees and supervisors every 12 to 24 months. Conduct regular harassment training for board members as well.
- Include anti-harassment language in social media and computer usage policies.
- Train supervisors to contact Human Resources and/or senior management immediately upon observing or otherwise learning of conduct that is or could reasonably be regarded as sexual or unlawful harassment (or violative of the employer’s conduct policies).
- Insist that supervisors need to “walk the talk.” In other words, they need to refrain from, among other things, sending or forwarding emails that are harassing, discriminatory, or otherwise inappropriate for the workplace.
- If employees are with a client or other third-party who is observed using abusive language in the presence of employees, this issue needs to be brought to the attention of HR and management promptly.
- Supervisors should refrain from communicating with employees at times and in a manner that would make an employee feel uncomfortable (i.e., contacting an employee on his or her home phone number late in the evening when it is not an emergency business situation).
- If drinking is permitted at employer-sponsored events, supervisors (and, of course, employees) should drink only in moderation.
- Remind employees to refrain from inappropriate and potentially hurtful stereotypical comments and communications about people.
- Remind employees to refrain from jokes that have a sexual, racial, religious, ethnic, or other inappropriate connotation.
- Insist on full cooperation by all employees in harassment investigations.
- Supervisors should not directly or indirectly retaliate in any way if a complaint is raised by an employee about inappropriate, unprofessional, or harassing behavior.
- Establish procedures for investigating claims of harassment.
- Investigate harassment complaints promptly.
- Take appropriate and prompt remedial action (up to and including termination) against violators of the harassment policy.
- Revise the harassment policies so they prohibit unacceptable conduct and behaviors, even if they are not unlawful.
- Consider separate manager training focused on preventing, identifying, and successfully addressing employee issues (including complaints of harassing or unacceptable behavior).
- Explore or, as the case may be, review insurance policies to make sure that there is comprehensive insurance coverage for harassment claims.
Marc Engel is an employment attorney experienced in providing successful strategies for managing employees and preventing employment claims. For more information, contact Marc at 301-657-0184 or [email protected].