Just in case employers have forgotten how critical it is to avoid and properly handle harassment claims, the recent $1.5 million settlement against JPMorgan should serve as a reminder. Advise all employers to take action and have a plan to protect employees and minimize harassment claims.
Dealing with workplace harassment requires an organized action plan. Here’s one to get employers started:
- ___ Prepare and distribute a written, comprehensive policy against harassment.
- ___ Implement an alternative complaint procedure for the allegedly harassed employee(s) and other affected person(s).
- ___ Carefully choose employees who will be responsible for investigating harassment complaints. Use at least two employees, whenever possible. If appropriate, use a respected, highly ranked female employee as one member of the investigative team.
- ___ If an employee complains of harassment, immediately contact an attorney for advice on how to proceed with investigation of the complaint.
- ___ Thoroughly and confidentially investigate all harassment complaints.
- ___ Have the alleged harassed employee describe all the facts and circumstances on which the harassment complaint is based.
- ___ As part of the investigation, interview anyone who knows the facts on which the harassment complaint is based, including the alleged harassing employee(s). Advise all employees that they won’t be retaliated against for telling the truth.
- ___ Carefully document the investigation, keeping in mind that the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the alleged harassed employee(s) may see these documents in any later administrative or civil action.
- ___ Weigh the facts obtained during the investigation, as well as the credibility of the witnesses, in deciding whether the harassment complaint is valid.
- ___ After the investigation is finished, meet separately with the alleged harassed employee(s), the alleged harassing employee(s) and, if appropriate, any other employee(s) or person(s) interviewed to (1) explain the nature and scope of the investigation, (2) communicate the employer’s findings on the complaint, and (3) counsel the harassing or harassed employee(s).
- ___ Implement measures to prevent the likelihood of future problems between the harassed and harassing employees.
- ___ Consider the benefits of calling a meeting or distributing a memorandum to all employees that (1) restates the employer’s policy against harassment, (2) stresses the seriousness of harassment complaints, and (3) encourages all employees to report honestly and accurately all relevant facts supporting or refuting any such complaints.
- ___ Prepare a memorandum summarizing the results of the investigation, the employer’s determination of the validity of the complaint, and the course of action taken by the employer in response to the complaint. Remember that the DFEH, the EEOC, or the allegedly harassed employee(s) in any later administrative or civil action may also see this memorandum.
This plan is from CEB’s Advising California Employers and Employees, chapter 15. CEB guides employers through harassment claims in Wrongful Employment Termination Practice: Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation. And there’s a sample anti-harassment policy in CEB’s Drafting Employment Documents for California Employers §9.30.
Also, harassment is one of many issues covered in CEB’s program Essential Employment Law Issues: Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation, and Other Claims; Security and Privacy Issues, available On Demand.
Related CEBblog™ posts:
- Halloween Harassment
- Preventing Workplace Violence: 12 Practical Steps for Employers to Take
- Cupid in the Office
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