Photo cred: Tyler Hendy
Harassment in the employment setting interferes with the victim’s ability to perform his/her/their job duties, disrupts the workplace environment, and puts employers in the difficult position of having to investigate claims, interview employees, discipline perpetrators, and mitigate the chance of a lawsuit. Considering the impact these claims have on everyone, it is crucial for employers to be prepared to deal with them, should they arise.
Below are four critical steps Minnesota employers can and should take with regard to harassment claims to avoid contentious (and costly) legal battles.
- Make Expectations Known. Inform your employees about your anti-harassment policy and the consequences of violating its terms. Employee handbooks, orientation materials, and posted notices are all good ways to communicate expectations, establish boundaries, and prevent some instances of harassment from arising in the first place.
- Treat All Claims Seriously. If an employee reports harassment, even a claim that seems questionable or minor, and the employer ignores it or dismisses it out of hand, there can be serious consequences. As noted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers are liable for harassment if they knew (or should have known) about the behavior and did not take appropriate action.
- Take Appropriate Action. Taking appropriate action does not necessarily mean you have to fire the alleged offender or effectuate a transfer to separate the two parties. “Appropriate action” means interviewing the complainant, the alleged harasser, and any witnesses; generating a report and sharing the results of the investigation with the complainant and the alleged harasser. Then, if you find that unlawful conduct did occur, you need to take further diciplinary action in accordance with your findings, considering the harassing party’s previous disciplinary history and position of authority, as well as the severity of the harassment and whether it was chronic or an isolated incident. (If an employer finds that criminal conduct occurred, it should alert the appropriate legal authorities.)
- Do Not Retaliate. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, employers must not retaliate with adverse action against the reporting employee for having made the claim. Doing so could set the stage for a retaliation claim. Furthermore, the employer should advise the other party not to retaliate against the reporting employee, and that retaliation is a separate matter that could cause the need for discipline, up to and including termination.
These protocols can protect you, your business, and your workers in the event of alleged harassment in the workplace. Should you have specific questions or concerns regarding your role as an employer in these disputes, it would be a good idea to consult an attorney to discuss your case.