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Check out our weekly blog posts and see the latest news and discussions happening in the HR world of business.

Harassment is Not Just that Nasty Comment

Typically, when we think about harassment in the workplace, we think about someone making a remark that someone else interprets as being offensive. With this, we typically think that there wasn’t really any mal-intent behind said remark and even tell ourselves that the person who reports the harassment is being…. well, just a little bit too sensitive.

As we noted in our blog post a few weeks ago, harassment is a bit subjective by nature. What’s harassment to you might not barely be picked up on the radar of another person, and vice versa. With this in mind, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.” Further, they note that “harassment becomes unlawful when 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

Now, besides the obvious bullying, name calling, and unwanted sexual advances that we typically think of when workplace harassment is bought up, there are several other forms these behaviors can take that are all too easy to overlook. Below, we share a few examples from the EEOC and employment lawyers trot out as cautionary tales:

  • Managers or supervisors setting impossible work-related goals for their workers, such as unrealistic sales goals or factory production numbers.
  • Managers or supervisors declining to allow certain workers to attend training or other career-advancing opportunities.
  • Managers or supervisors holding business meetings at locations that may limit participation by workers, such as a member’s only country clubs, the golf course, or a gentleman’s club.
  • Employee or employees playing practical jokes on a second worker, particularly if they inhibit an individual’s ability to perform their job in a timely or appropriate fashion.
  • Employee or employees sharing offensive jokes – either in person or online – that may be offensive to certain genders, cultures, religions, or sexuality.
  • Employee or employees declining to invite or include a second worker in activities, both inside and outside of work, or hosting events that could be considered exclusionary.

A second, yet important form of discrimination that should not be overlooked is that of retaliation associated with filing a discrimination charge and any of the pursuant legal aspects of the claim (e.g. participating in the investigation, testifying, etc). Employers, meanwhile, can run afoul of these laws by participating in employment practices that lead to discrimination, such as only seeking a man for a job or declining to hire a woman in her late fifties because she’s mere years away from retirement.

With these parameters in place, we see that harassment IS more than a comment and something that is far from subjective. We also know, courtesy of the EEOC, that your inability to respond to said harassment can land your business in a ton of legal trouble.

As we’ve touched on before, to protect yourself, your company, and your fellow workers, the wisest thing to do is draft a written anti-harassment policy and post it in your employee handbook. Having someone sign a document when they first join the company isn’t quite enough to keep anti-harassment front and center. Instead, as an employer, you need to build in reminders. As such, we at Abel HR recommend that you hold routine training as necessary to remind employees about what constitutes harassment, how to avoid it, and how you should report it should it ever occur. Further, you’d be wise to train your HR professional or partner with a PEO since they fully understand the reporting process and all that it entails in order to fulfill the employer responsibility aspect of the harassment policies.

Of course, this blog post really condenses down all the most salient information related to anti-harassment policies and it really is a very intricate, very detailed, and incredibly nuanced aspect of being an employer, and one where the stakes are so high that it could even cost you your business. The good news is, we are here to help. We at Abel HR can help you craft an anti-harassment policy that has passed the muster of a lawyer, develop and lead best-in-class anti-harassment training, and even use our team of in-house investigators should a claim arise and guide you through all that that entails. To learn more, give us a call at 609.860.0400.

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