Harassment

Robin Noah
Robin Noah

Is the issue of harassment confusing? Do you wish that a simple, clear statement was available to help you have a clearer understanding of what it is and how to deal with it? Here is a brief overview.

TYPES: There are several types of inappropriate behavior that constitute harassment. The behavior could be of a sexual nature may involve bullying or other unwelcome behavior. Employee harassment guidelines establish the standards of conduct employees must follow, as well as the employer’s responsibilities in the event of a harassment claim as well as the possible consequences for engaging in such behavior

GUIDELINES: Employee harassment guidelines are a set of rules that illustrate how employees should conduct themselves in the workplace. They are in place to inform workers of what constitutes inappropriate behavior. Employee harassment guidelines define harassment, establish a specific code of conduct and clearly describe the procedures for reporting harassment. Many employers require that workers sign a document saying they read and understand harassment guidelines to help ensure adherence to harassment policies and procedures.

ISSUES: A central issue is occupying the time of HR professionals is harassment in the workplace. The costs associated with this issue go far beyond the simple payment of legal fees. Affected employees may begin to display any number of negative indications of harassment: feeling victimized, having attendance problems, showing a decrease in productivity, experiencing a hostile work environment. Even a potential loss of employment for those involved may result. Because harassment in business exclusively involves people, it falls to HR departments to maintain vigilance in monitoring and addressing this issue.

Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.” You, as a business owner, are liable for the inappropriate behaviors that fall into this description.

The HR ROLE AND PREVENTION:

Federal laws: The prevalence of harassment in the workplace has led to a number of federal laws:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA),
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Legal matters in the workplace tend to fall under human resources, a component of business with labor law at its core. A harassment lawsuit carries with it the power to destroy your business, so it is beneficial to have HR on hand to deter situations of harassment.

Human resources personnel are equipped to take several measures in prevention of harassment. When first hired your employees may not know what the boundaries of behavior involve. They must be informed, and receive training. After training, employees should sign written acknowledgements of the training. This document is placed in their personnel files.

IMPORTANCE: Training and documentation provide important support if litigating a harassment case ever becomes necessary. Your HR department needs to provide continued required “brush-up” training as a necessary reminder to employees about harassment issues and how to avoid them.

EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITIES: Implementing an employee harassment policy does not release employers from liability if a worker is the victim of harassment. Employers must make a good-faith effort to prevent harassment in the workplace and remedy a harassment situation if a worker files a complaint. Employers are liable for harassment if they are made aware of harassing behavior and fail to take action to correct the situation.

Guidelines attempt to prevent harassment through education and training about the problems harassment causes and the individual responsibilities of all involved. The EEOC Training Institute is a valuable resource employers can use to implement training and technical assistance programs to improve employee awareness about harassment.

EMPLOYER LIABILITY: Despite having abuse and harassment policies in place:

  • Employers may be liable for the inappropriate behaviors of workers.
  • Employers are liable for harassment when a manager or supervisor’s inappropriate behavior results in an adverse employment action such as a decrease in wages or termination.
  • Employers who fail to prevent or at least make an attempt to prevent harassing behavior are also liable.
  • Employers who are made aware of harassing or abusive behavior and take the necessary steps to correct the situation are usually released from liability unless the victim can prove otherwise.

REFERENCE: Effective January, 2019 Gov. Code 12950.1 (Amended by SB 1343)  now requires that all employers of 5 or more employees provide 1 hour of sexual harassment and abusive conduct prevention training to non-managerial employees and 2 hours of sexual harassment and abusive conduct prevention training to managerial employees once every two years.

Education:  Educate yourself. It’s important that you know the fundamentals of harassment in work place.

This article is purely informational. For questions regarding the impact of harassment rules on your business, please see a labor law attorney.

Author: Robin Noah, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org