How Can Your Business Avoid A Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
Sexual harassment: You know it is wrong. You’d never do it, condone of it, approve of it, or allow it to happen. But in the back of your mind, you may be wondering: could I get sued for sexual harassment? How do I protect my business from a sexual harassment suit?
The Risk is Real
Avoiding sexual harassment suits becomes more difficult the larger your business becomes. With more employees, come more risk of lawsuits, as well as upper management’s reliance on middle management to handle complaints of sexual harassment early and effectively, so as to keep them from developing further into something much worse.
While there is no way to prevent every lawsuit—people can, after all, sue anybody for anything—there are ways that you can make sure that you have a rock solid defense, should a lawsuit ever be filed against you alleging sexual harassment.
The first step to defending a sexual harassment lawsuit is avoiding it in the first place. That happens with good training. Training should be given not just to employees, but especially to managers—the people that employees who may feel they are victims will go to first with their complaints.
Policies and Procedures
You should have a thorough policy as to how your company deals with sexual harassment complaints. That policy should include a chain of command—who does an aggrieved employee have to go to make his or her complaint? What happens when there is a complaint that is made?
Having a policy is one thing, but having it down in writing is just as important. Make sure you have a documented policy and either hand it out to all employees, or have it posted in a conspicuous place.
Interviews and Investigations
All management should be properly trained in how to do a thorough and proper investigation into sexual harassment allegations. This can be done through the use of interviews. Remember that many victims may want confidentiality, and it is important to, as much as possible, safeguard the identity of those complaining of harassment, or at least to get consent from victims to use their name solely in the conduct of the investigation.
Interviews should be documented. You may want to have standard questions that are asked of all employees in every investigation. Make sure your questions get to the heart of the issue, without being accusatory, or worse, defamatory (lest your sexual harassment lawsuit becomes a slander lawsuit brought by an accused employee).
Any measures that you can take, should be taken, as a precaution. For example, if an employee’s seat can be moved, to separate employees who may have conflict, do so (and document the steps taken). Any reprimands should also be documented and put into employee files.
Florida is an at-will employment state, so if you have to take the measure of firing someone, don’t be afraid to do it–and if you use employment contracts, make sure those contracts have provisions that allow you to relieve employees of their duties in the event harassment is found.
Call the West Palm Beach employment lawyers at Pike & Lustig for help keeping your business safe and out of legal trouble.