What Every Employer Should Know About Harassment in the Workplace

September 15, 2012 in , , , ,

Workplace harassment is prohibited by federal, state, and local laws. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe and free of discrimination against any employee on any legally recognized basis including, but not limited to:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Age
  • National Origin
  • Disability
  • Any other legally protected class

Harassment affects not only the victim, but can also affect the workplace environment and possibly lead to group conflict, damaged careers, or public embarrassment for the company.

Here are some best practices for limiting your organization’s liability:

  • Distribute written non-harassment and sexual harassment policies.
  • Provide annual training to all employees.
  • Ensure that written policies are enforced.
  • Promptly react to all complaints.
  • Designate an investigation official.
  • Maintain confidentiality to the full extent possible.
  • Assure no retaliation.
  • Document the investigation process and any action taken.
  • Take corrective action against employees who violate company policies.
  • Always follow up.

Key elements of a good non-harassment policy in the workplace include:

  • Support from management
  • Written policy communicated to employees
  • Supervisor training
  • Employee training
  • Open-door policy to create a safe environment for reporting claims

When harassment results in a tangible employment action against the victim, such as demotion or termination, the employer may be held strictly liable for damages to the harassed employee.

Employers may be liable for such harassment even if the company was not aware of the harassment, or the employee did not file a complaint of harassment using the company’s internal complaint procedures.

Remember, when it comes to harassment, it is not the intent of the harasser that matters, but rather the impact his/her actions have on someone else.

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