November 19, 2019

How to Handle Harassment Claims

How to Handle Harassment Claims

Every harassment complaint should come with a warning sign: Proceed with Caution. Especially in our current era, when these types of complaints have the tendency to surface years later.

Harassment can create a hostile work environment, affect job performance, and destroy a company’s bottom line if legal action is pursued. Management 101 should dictate that these types of complaints are taken very seriously. 

Employers are responsible for molding a company culture where harassment is simply unacceptable. It is the role of management to invest in solid training, to take each complaint seriously, to investigate each situation, and to take action to prevent to future incidents. It is NEVER the job of management to judge the person submitting the complaint.

Train Employees in Proper Behavior and Reporting Methods: Sometimes harassment goes unreported because employees are unsure of what constitutes harassment or are afraid of retaliation from their superiors or co-workers. Solid training can help combat this. All employees and managers should be trained in how to create a positive, harassment-free workplace. 

Once employees are given clear guidelines on appropriate behavior, they should be trained to report every incident they face or witness. There should be options to report anonymously. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) believes it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent and report harassment. If a victim is afraid to speak up, co-workers can help stop harassment by reporting it. 

Those who do file complaints, should be thanked for helping create a better work environment and be updated on the results of the findings. Since it is important to avoid anything that could be construed as retaliation, it would be poor timing to discipline or terminate an employee after they report an incident of harassment.  

How to Handle After-the-Fact Complaints: What should management do when an employee files a harassment suit after termination? Even if their termination was completely unrelated? What should management do when a complaint surfaces years after an employee has worked at a company?

It’s a good idea to get legal advice early on for these types of cases because employers can be held liable for sexual harassment claims, even if the reason for termination is completely unrelated or even if the event occurred years ago. 

It’s been two years since the viral explosion of the #MeToo movement which has encouraged employees who have been sexually harassed or abused by a superior or co-worker to speak up, even years after the alleged abuse had taken place. 

When workers are subjected to this kind of behavior, the employer is at risk of facing lawsuits regardless of whether the employer was aware of the harassment. With the #MeToo movement, some employers fear complaints may not be genuine. Again, the job of management is to resolve these issues, not pass judgement. 

Develop a Checklist: Engineers and pilots love checklists to help them stay on track during difficult situations. It’s a great idea for Human Resources to develop a checklist of actions to take when a harassment complaint is made to make sure no essential steps are missed. 

Have a plan of action approved by your attorney on the best practice for handling harassment complaints at your company.  Below is a possible items to add to such a checklist:

• Emphasize that the complaint will be taken seriously
• Avoid all gossip about the issue
• Check with legal support about the proper steps
• Fully investigate the issue or hire an agency to do so
• Be clear that retaliation will not be tolerated
• Resolve the issue with all parties
• Put a plan into action to prevent the behavior in the future

About the Author

PIASC is the largest graphic arts trade association in the country. They are devoted in helping members succeed. For over 80 years, they have been servicing businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Ventura and Clark counties.

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