Take a Proactive Stand Against Harassment

It's probably impossible for your company to eliminate any chance of harassment, but there are precautions you can take to help win a lawsuit filed by an employee.


Above all, you must have a sound company policy against harassment, which includes discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age or disability. Some important steps:

  • Make sure your employees are aware of the policy. Spread the word through orientation sessions and your employee handbook.
  • Require staff members to sign an agreement indicating that they understand the policy.
  • At least once a year, train your employees and managers on the subject of harassment and its consequences. Employees must be told how to report incidents and feel they can do so without retaliation.

In some cases, you must be proactive. In one case, the EEOC said if there is sexually or racially offensive graffiti in the workplace, a company shouldn't wait for a complaint before erasing it.

To protect your company after a harassment complaint, here's a checklist of eight steps to take to help conduct a thorough investigation:

___  Listen to the complaint but stay neutral and don't validate the accusation.

___  Take down a statement in writing and ask the employee to initial it for accuracy.

___  Assure the employee that you will take action.

___  Discuss the problem with legal counsel.

___  Meet with key individuals and investigate the complaint (or hand the inquiry over to a neutral third party).

___  Don't confine the investigation to the single incident. For example, does the alleged harasser have a history of similar behavior?

___  Take appropriate action if you determine harassment did take place, including a warning, disciplinary action, demotion, transfer or dismissal. Carefully document your findings.

___  Institute additional training if your investigation uncovers a pattern of harassment or ignorance about the subject.

Even after conducting a thorough investigation and taking appropriate action, an employee may still sue the company. But the seriousness of your inquiry, along with a comprehensive policy, adequate training and consistent treatment of violations can help convince the court that you did everything possible to provide a harassment-free workplace.

Consult with your legal advisor who can help you create a policy and training sessions and help you steer clear of embarrassment suits.

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