Harassment in the workplace can create a hostile work environment that affects the morale of employees and the work they do on a daily basis, which can eventually affect the bottom line of the business. Because way in which the management handles harassment complaints can have legal repercussions for the business, it is always best to have guidelines in place to ensure that harassment complaints are properly handled.
The ongoing #MeToo movement has highlighted various weaknesses in how allegations of harassment, sexual or otherwise, are handled across industries. In many cases, allegations of harassment in the workplace are ignored or minimized as opposed to being investigated and resolved. This approach can dissuade employees from making valid complaints and encourage harassers to continue their unprofessional behavior in the workplace.
For the business, allowing some employees to continue harassing other employees in order to avoid an investigation can only lead to further legal problems. If the employee being harassed can prove that the employer was aware of the harassment and chose to do nothing, the employer can be held legally responsible for that failure to act. In addition, if a member of management is the one harassing other employees, the employer can be held liable for that person’s actions if the employee can prove that he or she was retaliated against for filing the report, or that the harassment created a hostile work environment.
Guidelines and procedures regarding workplace harassment and how employees can report it should ideally be included in the employee handbook and posted in places where employees have easy access to the information. The procedures for reporting an incident of harassment should be geared toward making it easy for employee reporting, but also present a fair way to conduct an investigation into the allegations. The investigation should be kept confidential until the allegations are substantiated. Keeping the investigation confidential may also encourage other employees to report misconduct.
The employer should not take actions to retaliate against a person who files a harassment complaint in an effort to encourage the person to drop the complaint. Obvious actions of retaliation may include: firing the complainant, disciplining the complainant, demotion, reducing the complainant’s pay, or threatening to take any of these actions if the complaint is not dropped. There are other actions that may be considered retaliatory, for example moving the complainant to another department, to a less favorable shift, or even to another office. Even if these actions are taken for another reason, if they are taken close to the filing of the complaint, it can lead to an inference of retaliation.
Contact us for More Information
When drafting the guidelines and procedures to handle reports of harassment, and employee manuals in general, it is important to seek the guidance of an experienced business attorney. In some cases, when an investigation has been initiated, it may be important to seek the guidance of an attorney. For more information on how to proceed when an employee has filed a harassment complaint, contact an experienced business attorney at Resnick Law, P.C., in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit, Michigan, to schedule a consultation.
(image courtesy of Chris Greenhow)