Small businesses are not exempt from enduring the stress of a workplace harassment complaint. There is an array of reasons why someone would want to file one against their employer but the end result is the same; someone threatening the reputation of your business.
No one wants to be called into question and the frustration of knowing that someone is calling your business practices on the carpet can be maddening.
What does it all mean?
How do you go about settling the dispute?
What should you do first?
What do you avoid?
Most small business owners are aware of the widely publicized scenarios around sexual harassment. Indulge us in stating the obvious: You should never make any statements of a sexual nature to an employee, coworker or anyone relating to your business...ever.
Besides omitting any suggestive language and conversation from your workplace dealings, it is always a good managerial practice to avoid physical contact with your employees and coworkers.
Patting someone on the back, touching someone on the arm or anything else can be easily misconstrued. If someone has done an exceptional job, send them a congratulatory email, publicly acknowledge them in a meeting, shake their hand but do not attempt any further physical contact.
It is also advisable in today’s work environment to avoid meeting with someone alone in an office that has no way for anyone to observe what is going on inside. Many conference rooms have windows and you can also use a white noise maker if you need to meet with someone privately and keep the door opened slightly. If the matter is sensitive, bring in a partner, an assistant or another trusted party to be present during your meeting.
Keeping these suggestions in mind will minimize the opportunity for someone to take any comments or behaviors out of context and will create situations for others to witness your inter-personal contact in the workplace.
If there is any one thing you should steer clear of is trying to settle it yourself, especially if you are the one that the workplace harassment complaint is about. Never approach anyone who has filed a workplace harassment complaint against you or your business alone and try to settle it out of court. That well-meaning mistake can cost you dearly and certainly heighten an already tense situation between parties.
It can be very tempting to want to settle things “like adults” but once a complaint has been filed officially, you need to step back and take some countermeasures to protect yourself, your assets and your business.
There are times when one of your employees might find themselves in the middle of a workplace harassment complaint. Once you become aware of the situation, your next steps will be critical in minimizing the damage to your company’s reputation. Here are the actions that should be taken in order:
If you are working with a PEO:
Contact your PEO service immediately if you are working with one
Write down every detail you have about the interaction and/or complaint
DO NOT contact the individual yourself without first speaking to your PEO
Your PEO service provider will guide you on what to do and what not to do. PEOs carry EPLI insurance for their customers so your business will be protected against monetary damages incurred in any lawsuits the come about as a result of the workplace harassment complaint.
If you are not working with a PEO:
Contact your attorney immediately
Contact your EPLI insurance provider if you have one
DO NOT contact any individuals involving the case until you talk to your attorney and/or EPLI insurance provider
Write down as much detail about the incident that you have
It is very ill-advised to take any matters into your own hands if your business does not have representation. Write down everything that you know and contact an attorney for guidance. Do not delay in your response to the allegations. Time is of the essence in a situation like this.
Follow the above steps whether the complaint is about you or someone else in your office. Failure to follow these suggestions can result in a damaged reputation and significant financial losses resulting for a lawsuit. Workplace harassment complaints are serious business but they are not impossible to get over with the proper guidance and insurance coverage.
If you are not working with an EPLI insurance provider and/or do not have an attorney who can properly assist you in this and other HR issues that can occur in a small business, consider a PEO service to protect you exactly when you need it most. Being a small business does not mean having to be vulnerable against workplace harassment complaints.
If you’d like to find out more about how PEOs can help you provide great benefits and payroll management at less than you are paying now, contact us today for a free consultation.
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