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2018 Resolution: Guard Against Workplace Harassment, Counsels Labor Attorney

01/11/2018

With the wave of sexual harassment claims and firings that began in 2017 likely to continue in 2018 and beyond, “every company, no matter the size, should take a hard look at the measures it takes to provide employees with a harassment-free workplace while insulating itself from workplace harassment claims,” says Laura Corvo, a partner in the Labor and Employment team of national law firm LeClair Ryan. In a recent post on the firm’s Workplace Defender blog, the Newark-based attorney suggests businesses begin the New Year by adopting five anti-harassment resolutions.

This approach may provide some defense in case of a workplace harassment claim, notes Corvo, who focuses on employment litigation and employment counseling. With giants of Hollywood, the news media, government, and many other high-profile industries toppled, “it would be naïve to assume that the aftershock effects will not impact all employers in 2018.”

Corvo’s five recommended resolutions for businesses include:

  • Start with reviewing your written policy prohibiting harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. “But to be effective, the policy also needs to be regularly updated and effectively communicated to your employees, since case law regarding workplace harassment claims is constantly evolving and laws change all the time,” explains Corvo. Companies with existing written policies should review and update them to reflect issues like text messaging, social media, other forms of electronic communications, and harassment that takes place off-premises, she advises. Written policies should also be periodically distributed to employees, to help ensure that they are aware of the policies and to hammer home that the company takes the policy seriously.
  • Train employees on what the written policies say and how your company expects employees to conduct themselves in the workplace. “Supervisors, managers and executives need to receive special harassment training,” Corvo writes. “They not only need to know how to conduct themselves in the workplace, they also need to know how to enforce the policies.”
  • Investigate all complaints, even those that may appear groundless. “Given today’s environment, there is a strong chance your company will receive at least one complaint of workplace harassment in 2018,” Corvo writes. Failure to investigate all complaints “is likely to hurt the company, even if it’s defending against a meritless claim.” The way in which an investigation is handled can be critical, she adds. “Workplace harassment investigations are often complex, so they should typically be performed by human resource professionals who are trained to conduct such investigation. Or they should be done by or with the assistance of legal counsel.”
  • Be aware. The 2017 harassment horror stories followed two common patterns, Corvo explains: “First, the boards of directors and the executives feigned shock and ignorance when the faces of their brands were accused of egregious sexual misconduct and harassment. Second, each complaint of bad behavior was followed by another, and then another.” So, any rumblings should be investigated, she counsels. Even something as seemingly innocuous as an inappropriate joke or an inappropriate glance should be followed up, she adds.
  • Be committed. “Everyone from the top of your organization on down needs to be committed to a harassment-free workplace, and to exhibit behavior that that is consistent with that commitment,” notes Corvo. “Employees (and plaintiff’s attorneys) are going to be gunning for the top, especially after seeing so many stories that exposed sexual harassment at the highest levels of major organizations.” Her recommendation: The people at the top must be on their best behavior and set the tone for everyone else in the organization. “That means they can’t tell inappropriate jokes, even if people laugh at them. They can’t use slurs, epithets or other inappropriate language, even if employees don’t seem to mind when they do. And, if you have a problem at the top of your organization, you must address it.”

The backlash over workplace harassment started snowballing in 2017 and is still playing out. “But, if you start by taking a hard look at your efforts to prevent harassment and adopt these resolutions, you could be on your way to a harassment-free 2018,” Corvo concludes.

The full blog is available at: https://lrworkplacedefender.com/resolutions-for-a-harassment-free-new-year/

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