Preparation is the Best Deterrent

Businesses shouldn’t waste any time this year “updating” their hostile workplace and sexual harassment policies; for years, the language in most employee handbook hasn’t changed. As business owners, we already have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment.

Once the language on the related policy has been reviewed, however, don’t hesitate to thoroughly read the law to be sure it is correct. Refer to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by visiting eeoc.gov for details. You may also want to pass the policy on to your business attorney or human resource specialist. In the handbook, it’s important to give employees an understanding that they can and should report inappropriate behavior. In your organization’s culture, make it acceptable to talk through and report any perceived issue.

As awkward as it might be, it is important for the person who feels uncomfortable to address it with the person. Although a meeting could take place, experts recommend an email be sent to help solidify the information in writing. This should clearly outline the unwanted behavior. If the behavior persists, the paper trail helps with the process as well. Hopefully, this communication works and it changes the environment.

Make it clear to everyone in your organization that they do not have to go directly to a supervisor to report an issue; there may be a problem with that particular person. However, it is important to give employees options, which may be difficult in a smaller organization. If there isn’t a go-to person in human resources, it may be wise to consider consultants in this situation.

The owner of the company or a board of directors needs to remain impartial for everyone’s sake. These types of harassment investigations can impact the accused, the accuser and the company. With so much at stake, it is imperative that the interviews and subsequent follow-ups are beyond reproach. If you are concerned about this, again, the best investigator might be an outside consultant.

With high profile, attention-grabbing crises are gripping the nation, the region and even our local area, I would bet that most people believed incidents would arise for themselves or their organizations. Understanding how to deal with a potential problem will go a long way in making sure that your organization is safe for all, while eliminating the potential for a crisis to ever build.

Just remember: A small investment in your organization’s future could build a long-standing foundation for your people and your business to thrive.

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