Preparing to Respond to Workplace Harassment

June 2, 2014

Small Michigan manufacturer pays out $50,000 to settle a harassment complaint filed with a government agency. No handbook. No training. Bad behavior. No investigation. No defense, so write the check. How often does this happen? Not often, but isn’t once still too often? What about lost productivity, the rumors, and even the bad press? The distraction from the core business? The distrust amongst those who would otherwise prefer to be teammates? These always cost more than any fine.

When bad behavior occurs, is an employer without defense? Not at all; you can be prepared.

There are some legal things to know and practical steps to take.  For example, when poor choices are made and a discrimination, harassment and retaliation charge results, can you respond with, what is called, an “affirmative defense”? Did you…?

  • Do you have a clear policy, communicated to each person in writing, which you can prove has been given to each employee? Are your managers and staff trained in enforcing the policy and managing appropriate workplace conduct?
  • Do you have a complaint resolution procedure, such as: Management has an “open door” and requests that issues be brought forward?
  • Is the door really open?  How can you ensure your culture is one of non-retaliation, and consistent across different groups of employees?
  • When a complaint arises, have you provided “prompt and remedial relief”? Do you investigate complaints – knowing how to treat accusers, interview witnesses, and exercise corrective action?

Once again, don’t forget what is most important. Avoiding a complaint is not the focus. You want to have a culture where people raise concerns, of any kind. If folks don’t expect questions about discrimination to be addressed, they will also be reluctant to talk about safety, production problems, customers and other business-critical topics, too.

Contributed by Scott Trossen, founder of the Michigan HR Group and Mark Heusel, partner with Dickinson Wright, PLLC.

View the on-demand webinar Responding to Workplace Harassment: Performance Corrections with Scott Trossen and Mark Heusel.