There is a lot of legal and financial risk that comes from running your own business, especially when you have employees. Your company is responsible not just for the goods and services it provides, but also for the behavior of its workers.
In no area of employment law is the risk to employers more obvious than when an employee makes harassment claims. Tasteless jokes or inappropriate touching by a single worker could lead to tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs and fines for the business.
Thankfully, there are ways for business owners and managers to reduce these risks for their companies by actively preventing workplace harassment.
Have a zero-tolerance harassment policy
The first step toward reducing harassment and your liability for it is to have a written policy that clearly explains your company’s rules about harassment. Affirming that your company has a zero-tolerance approach is an important protection.
Provide initial (and possibly ongoing) training
Right after you hire your workers, teach them about what you consider harassment. When workers actually understand what behaviors and words cross the line, they may be less likely to engage in behaviors that their co-workers consider abusive. Additionally, by offering training, you demonstrate how your company has proactively tried to prevent harassment.
Provide a safe reporting system for complaints
Your business can significantly reduce the risk of harassment claims from workers by providing them with a safe way to report misconduct when it occurs. Giving people the information necessary to reach human resources or management team members is invaluable. So, too, is having a bypass method people can use if their direct supervisor or someone from human resources is the one accused of harassment.
Take every complaint seriously
Hopefully, your proactive, zero-tolerance approach will prevent workers from engaging in this type of behavior. However, if someone does make inappropriate comments or jokes that offend someone else, your business needs to investigate every complaint thoroughly. Keeping thorough records and taking appropriate disciplinary actions can help you avoid claims that you ignored or contributed to a hostile workplace.
Thinking about your responsibilities and risks as an employer can help you create a healthier and happier work environment.