Durham

Crowe Building, Suite 420, 406 Blackwell Street, Durham, NC 27701

(919) 787-8880

Raleigh

3605 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 500, Raleigh, NC 27612

(919) 787-8880

From the #MeToo movement to major shake-ups at public companies and billion-dollar startups, sexual harassment is a problem that can impact businesses across all industries. What’s a concerned employer to do?

  1. Clearly Communicate Expectations for Workplace Conduct. Clearly communicate to all employees that harassment and hostile work environments are not to be tolerated. See our prior post for a description of harassment and hostile work environments.
  2. Develop and Continually Monitor Your Workplace Culture.  Cultures within workplaces must change.  Perception IS reality. If employees perceive that there is a culture issue, there is a culture issue. Culture must be changed from the top down, through clear written policies, and from the bottom up, by ensuring that all employees feel comfortable raising concerns where they exist.
  3. Have an Employee Handbook.
    • Include a Clear Policy Against Harassment. Refer specifically to hostile work environments of any nature based on race, color, religion, sex, nation origin, age, disability or genetic information; and clearly define a hostile work environment, including examples.
    • Follow the Policy. Every. Time. A sexual harassment policy should clearly establish effective complaint and grievance procedures and every employee should be well familiar with those procedures.  Management should follow the policy, precisely, every time there is a complaint.
  4. Beware Email and Social Media. Practice professional use of email and social media.  All employees should understand that there is no expectation of privacy on email or social media and that harassment can extend to outside the workplace (e.g., at an after-work event at the bar) and to social media (e.g., on an employee’s personal Facebook page).
  5. Provide Regular and Interactive Training to Your Employees. Effective and repeated training must be provided to all employees at all levels.  In-person, interactive training is preferred.
  6. Put Policy and Training into Practice.
    • Thoroughly Investigate Complaints.  Management must listen to all complaints and commence the appropriate investigation. The investigator should be competent, well-trained and unbiased.
    • Establish “No Retaliation” Policies.  Management must create a work environment in which employees feel comfortable raising their concerns without fear of recourse. Retaliating against an employee for making a complaint or raising his or her concerns is prohibited by law.
    • Take Ownership of Problems Once Identified.  Management should thoroughly analyze the investigator’s findings and lead the efforts to correct any workplace problems that may exist.
    • Discipline Offending Employees.  Management should not be afraid to take swift action, up to and including termination of the offending employee(s), and should clearly communicate the reasons for any conclusions or disciplinary action.

Unfortunately, most employers do not have a written policy to address sexual harassment in the workplace and offer little to no training of supervisors or employees on how to prevent, recognize, and confront the problem.  In failing to take these steps to protect themselves, employers risk costly and protracted litigation, as well as public relations nightmares.

Our next blog post will cover the top ten reasons why employers should create an employee handbook.

In the meantime, let us know if we can help.

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