Prevention for the
Small Business Owner
reprimands an employee accused of harassment with, "I don't
know what you say in Louisiana, but we don't talk that way in
clerk mentions to her foreman that a "nasty note" was
left on her desk. He tells her to let him know if it happens
again. He neither asks for the note nor tells the company owner or
personnel office-thereby disabling any investigation.
A strong man
hired to engage in physical labor complains to his boss that a
female customer keeps asking him out and sending him love letters.
His boss laughs, and says, "what, can't you handle a
instructs an employee accused of harassment to apologize in
writing to his accuser. Instead, the accused goes to the woman's
office-ostensibly to offer his apology in person-and asks her what
was said to offend her. The accuser responds that she cannot
remember. He assumes the situation is closed.
Each of these true
situations occurs daily in workplaces around the country. They
seem harmless enough, yet in each case management has not utilized
successful tools for preventing harassment; worse, it has set the
stage for further conflict. And in each case, it is the company
owner who will be held financially liable for future harassment.
owners-many of whom do not have in-house human resources
professionals upon whom to rely-- must learn the legal and
practical definition of harassment, obtain tools for identifying
behaviors that can be seen as harassing, understand their
liabilities, and focus on ways to prevent harassment.
owners understand that Courts will minimize punitive damages when
companies show reasonable care in preventing harassment. Showing
reasonable care is also the first step toward creating an
inclusive, respectful, and productive workplace.
There are four
components to showing reasonable care in preventing harassment:
- Provide a
harassment policy: this clearly written policy covers the
definition of harassment, the behaviors the company finds
unacceptable, procedures employees should follow if they
witness or experience harassment, and what may result from an
investigation. It is disseminated to all employees-and, if
necessary, translated into commonly used languages.
- Institute a
formal complaint procedure: the policy must include the names
and phone numbers of people to whom an employee may complain.
We recommend the business owner assign at least two other
people in addition to him/herself for this role to avoid any
perception of bias. Some organizations institute both formal
and informal procedures to enable those who just want the
behaviors to stop to complain without instigating an
disapproval of harassment: train all staff and encourage
managers to model appropriate behavior to ensure they
understand you intend a harassment-free workplace.
- Respond swiftly
and decisively: the company must respond as soon as a
complaint is made. Delays send mixed messages, provide
opportunities for further harassment or retaliation, and
weaken a company's proactive defense.
follow complaint procedures and the company responds by ensuring
the behavior stops, lawsuits are nipped in the bud, teamwork
continues unimpeded, and employees and customers feel confident in
a respectful workplace.
The loss of key
employees because of their behavior or the behavior of others
toward them and the lost productivity in a team experiencing
harassment cost businesses far more than monies lost in a lawsuit.
An ounce of prevention early in the process may be all it takes.
Illysa Izenberg is
Senior Associate of the Diversity Training Group, Inc., which
designs and implements diversity and harassment-prevention
training initiatives, and provides comprehensive support to
promote more inclusive work environments that value diversity.
Additionally, Ms. Izenberg conducts assessments to enable
companies to understand if their organizational cultures are
experienced differently by different groups. She can be reached at
301.602.6414. The main office of DTG can be reached at
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