The Most Common Employer Harassment Mistakes
The Top 12 employer harassment mistakes
In my continuing quest to make sure that none of our clients ever get sued — or, if that fails, never lose a lawsuit — here are the most common employer harassment mistakes. Are you guilty of any of these? If so, I would suggest that changes be made immediately.
1. Having a harassment policy that covers sexual harassment only — nothing about race, national origin, disability, age, or religion, much less all of those “cutting edge” protected categories (such as sexual orientation) that we have discussed in our seminars.
2. Having a policy that requires the accuser to report the harassment through the chain of command. It’s ok to recommend doing it this way, but you need to have an alternative in case the harasser is in the chain of command. An employee hotline is very helpful. If you do not have one we can assist with this.
3. Policy or training that is too legalistic. One of my pet peeves is a harassment policy (or training) that simply recites the legal definition of unlawful harassment with no further explanation. No normal person knows what that legal definition means. It’s much better to provide real life experiences as examples so that managers and supervisors know the behavior expectations.
4. No training. Any employer that is not providing training to their managers and supervisors is playing with fire.
5. Training that does not occur unless you’ve been sued. (If you get sued all the time, I guess this is all right.)
6. Supervisors who, when receiving a harassment complaint, start investigating (or, heaven forbid, making determinations) on their own.
7. Related to No. 6, failure to timely notify Human Resources about a complaint of harassment.
8. Not promptly separating the accuser and the accused, to (a) prevent further incidents, or (b) prevent further false accusations. (Consider suspending the accused with pay while you investigate. For everybody’s protection.)
9. Overreaction. For example, firing the accused, a 25-year employee with a clean record, because he told a mildly off-color joke that offended somebody.
10. Improper reaction. For example, giving a write up to the accused after you’ve determined that he sexually assaulted his assistant in the supply closet.
11. Failure to follow all leads when conducting your investigation. Unless the accused admits to the harassment right off the bat, interview every witness identified by the accuser and the accused, as well as any witnesses identified by the witnesses.
12. Failure to follow up with the accuser after the investigation is over. This is crazy, especially if the accuser and accused will continue working together, or if the accusations were serious but you couldn’t do much because your investigation was inconclusive. Follow-up will give the accuser the chance to let you know if any new harassment occurs. It will also show her (or him) that you care about her (or his) well-being. And, if everything is now fine, you can document that each time you check in — the documentation will help you in the event of a lawsuit later.
SCORE – How did you do? 0= Get immediate help!!; 1-3 = The fuse is lit ; 4-6 = No rush but let’s get proactive; 7-9 = Not bad!; 10-12 = Want a job??Just kidding but congrats!