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“Me too” Movement: Should small businesses worry about a workplace harassment claim?

workplace-harassment

The short answer is: Yes!

What Can You Do?

The bad news is that employers are liable when they know, or should have known, about workplace harassment and failed to take appropriate actions. A recent poll revealed that harassment claims settled out of court typically cost employers anywhere from $75,000–$125,000 in legal fees alone! This figure doubles if the claim goes to court and, if the employer is found liable, these numbers can skyrocket pretty fast. Actually, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) reported that since 2010, employers have paid more than $300 million to employees alleging sex-related harassment through the agency. This figure does not include monetary settlements through litigation.

In my years of experience investigating and resolving these and other HR concerns, I’ve noticed common actions of managers and employees that often turn a happy working relationship into a legal nightmare. The good news is that there are measures employers can implement to prevent or minimize this liability: Anti-Harassment Policies, Training and Education, and Corrective Action Processes.

Common Forms of Workplace Harassment

Today, I’ll address the most common form of harassment which is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment occurs when an employee is unfairly treated because of his or her gender, and it is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Managers, supervisors, team leads and any other employee in a position of authority should not display the following behaviors:

  • Posting inappropriate pictures: Nude or suggestive photos, posters or computer screensavers serve no business purpose in a professional work environment and create a hostile environment for the offended employee.
  • Unwanted touching, pinching, rubbing against another employee. The occasional hug or friendly pat in the back may be fine but it’s recommended to limit physical contact in a workplace setting even if it seems welcomed at first.
  • Making suggestive comments, innuendoes, stereotyping, insults or other statements about personal or sexual matters, using foul language, or making off-color jokes. Frequent cursing and off-color jokes have no place at work. While it may be funny or even welcomed in the beginning, eventually someone will be offended and may allege that the behavior is creating a hostile work environment. Communication between managers and employees must be respectful and professional at all times.
  • Withholding a raise or promotion unless the employee agrees to sexual advances (Quid pro quo harassment).
  • Dating subordinate employees. While the relationship may be consensual at first, things turn sour pretty quickly when the romance fizzles or when there’s disagreement. Often times hurt parties raise harassment complaints alleging they felt afraid of losing their jobs if they did not reciprocate the romance. I’ve seen other employees raise complaints of favoritism or even sexual harassment.

One lawsuit can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs in costs. Be sure you take steps to reduce your risk and protect your organization from the costly consequences of ignoring this important workplace issue.

Protect your organization against workplace harassment now!

Contact us for assistance with:

  • Developing and communicating anti-harassment policies
  • Training managers and employees
  • Establishing complaint procedures
  • Developing and implementing a disciplinary process

Rosa V.

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