The recent headlines about sexual assault complaints at LSU in Baton Rouge, sexual harassment complaints at LSU Medical School at Shreveport, sexual harassment complaints in the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, and accusations of sexual harassment by the Broussard Police Chief, should serve as a reminder to business owners that they need to review and update workplace policies to ensure that they are protecting their employees, their company and themselves from behavior that can damage the company’s reputation and productivity.
How can I protect my business from harassment complaints?
First, it is important to understand what constitutes sexual harassment – it is repeated behavior of a sexual nature that is offensive to the person who is subjected to the behavior against their will, usually in the workplace or another environment where the alleged harasser has some power over the person subjected to the offensive behavior.
“Behavior of a sexual nature” includes inappropriate jokes or comments. A single occurrence of intentionally touching “private” areas of the body or making demands for sexual favors is generally offensive enough to be considered sexual harassment by itself.
Business owners, managers and supervisors must lead by example. Their behavior sets the tone for workplace culture and how employees behave on the job. Inappropriate comments, jokes or touching may create an environment where that type of behavior is considered the “norm” – until someone makes a formal complaint.
What is required for an “affirmative defense” against sexual harassment lawsuits?
Having a written anti-harassment policy is the first line of defense for employers when allegations of sexual harassment result in legal action. This is usually done in an employee handbook and clearly explains what is and is not appropriate workplace behavior when interacting with co-workers, customers and vendors. This written policy should also clearly explain how to report a complaint about inappropriate behavior, how the complaint will be investigated and guarantee protection from retaliation.
How should harassment complaints be handled?
Every complaint should be taken seriously, with as much information collected as possible to determine what happened and what action should be taken. Information about the complaint and the investigation should be kept as confidential as possible, with only those who “need to know” given details. Everyone involved (complainant, alleged harasser, witnesses) should be interviewed and told to keep this information confidential. Frequently, companies decide to bring in an objective outsider, like an HR professional, to conduct the harassment investigation.
It may be necessary to remove the complainant from an on-going situation, for example assigning that employee to a different worksite temporarily if the alleged harasser is a co-worker or supervisor. However, no action should be taken that could be construed as retaliation against the complainant. Alternatively, the alleged harasser could be removed from the situation and placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
What measures should be taken to prevent harassment complaints?
Everyone in the company needs to be trained on the differences between harassment, discrimination and bullying – all of which have a negative impact on productivity, the company’s ability to hire and retain good employees, and its’ community reputation.
Business owners, managers and supervisors should address inappropriate behavior when it occurs. Failure to counsel an employee about inappropriate behavior may give the impression it is acceptable.
Documentation of performance issues is critical to prove that employment decisions, including termination, are not retaliation for failure to comply with sexual demands or for reporting harassment.
Although sexual harassment complaints have been more prevalent in the past few years, it is important in today’s business climate for anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and training to also address other legally-protected characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion and age.
An HR professional can help you with all of your human resources needs.
From hiring the right employees, running background checks, creating employee handbooks that include anti-harassment policies and procedures, and so much more, Next Level Solutions can work with you to provide the services that you need to run your business.
For more information about our accounting and human resource services, contact Next Level Solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 330-8347.