California state statutes and also federal rules prohibit harassment of all sorts in the workplace. Employees should not face abuse based on their sex, race or other protected characteristics. Jokes at the expense of older adults and those with disabilities, hostile work environments and quid pro quo sexual harassment can all lead to expensive and reputation-damaging claims against an employer, just to name a few examples of prohibited conduct.
Organizations typically want to limit the liability associated with having multiple employees, but there is never any guarantee about the conduct of individual workers or the way that they will relate to each other. How can businesses protect themselves from the possibility of employee lawsuits related to harassment claims?
Establish (and enforce) zero-tolerance policies
Many employers will have written policies related to workplace harassment that help make it clear that the company will not tolerate conduct that makes people feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the workplace. Including the right language and employee handbooks and contracts can help establish that a company has made reasonable attempts to protect its workers from harassment. Companies should also have clear policies about reporting harassment.
Provide appropriate training
Many employers offer multiple different types of diversity and inclusion training when bringing in new workers. Different types of harassment training can also be a smart investment. Certain types of training, like sexual harassment education, will be mandatory. Other types of training can help workers identify problematic behavior on the part of others and help them understand the right steps to take to report the matter internally should an issue with another worker arise.
Respond appropriately to worker complaints
All too often, companies face harassment lawsuits because members of their human resources or management teams fail to take the appropriate steps when workers report misconduct from others. Having clear policies that require writing down complaints and conducting a thorough investigation can limit the company’s liability if a worker alleges that someone else has harassed them on the job.
Those records can help show that the company has sought to preserve a safe and healthy work environment by investigating claims of harassment and taking appropriate punitive action when the investigation substantiates those allegations. The more documentation that a company has affirming that it has proactively sought to prevent and appropriately sought to respond to harassment complaints, the better the organization’s position when facing litigation brought by an unhappy worker.
Utilizing thoughtful internal practices can potentially help protect a company from lawsuits that could cost thousands and cause permanent damage to the business’s reputation as an employer.