Companies are legally responsible to provide a safe, harassment-free workplace for employees. Failure to do so can potentially result in a lawsuit for vicarious liability, in which the company itself is found responsible for harassment by supervisors or customers, even if the company was unaware of the occurrence.
To help protect itself from vicarious liability, your company can take the following steps:
- Clear Policy: Have a clear handbook policy against harassment, including examples of harassment, where to report, and investigation procedures.
- Ongoing Communication: Hold annual company-wide refreshers on your harassment policy, with signed acknowledgements that training was received and understood.
- Manager Education: Train managers and supervisors and obtain signed acknowledgements that your company has no tolerance of harassment of any kind, including race, color, sex (whether or not of a sexual nature), religion, national origin, protected activity, age, or disability.
- Take Action: Hold managers and supervisors responsible for proactively eradicating all forms of harassment, whether or not a formal complaint was made.
- No Obstacles: Remove obstacles to complaints of harassment, including fear of retaliation, burdensome chains of command for complaints, or undue expense to the employee (time off without pay during the investigation, for example).
This concludes our month-long look at harassment. To learn more about harassment investigations, please reference Nextep's HR Tip of the Week archives or contact Nextep's HR Department.
Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission