No matter how much effort your company puts into developing a harassment-free environment, all it takes is one rude or highly sensitive employee to put your company at risk of harassment complaints.
Maybe your naturally flirtatious lead salesperson offends a transfer from a competitor. Perhaps a team leader in customer service makes statements about coworkers’ religions that people find offensive and inappropriate. Sometimes, workers will bring complaints to the company, and other times, they may try to take their employer to court.
If your company faces allegations of permitting harassment in the workplace, how can you prepare to defend your company’s reputation?
Gather the relevant internal records
Did the employee make a complaint using the formal process provided by your company? If so, what did your company’s investigation determine? If not, what documentation can you produce about them and any employees implicated by their statements?
If your company can show that it provides harassment training, has a clear anti-harassment and no-discrimination policies and has previously responded properly to allegations, a worker claiming you mishandled or ignored their complaints will have a harder time convincing the courts of your misconduct.
Conduct a new investigation
As soon as you find out that your company will face a lawsuit, you need to look into the situation very carefully. An investigation is the first important step to take when you learn of harassment claims.
This goes beyond formal records and may involve reviewing emails between certain people, going over security camera footage and interviewing other employees. The more seriously you take the matter, the better the position you will be in if you do go to court. However, the outcome of that investigation may be able to help you settle the matter outside of court.
Recognize when settling is the best option
Sometimes, your investigation may determine that one of your employees harassed the other or did something that the worker viewed as harassment even if that wasn’t the intent. If your company finds itself in this untenable situation or if you simply don’t want the allegations to draw negative attention to your company and damage its reputation, you may want to attempt to negotiate a settlement.
Offering someone their position back, transferring them to a similar but better-compensated position where they won’t have to interact with the same individual or agreeing to certain new company policies are all examples of solutions that someone suing over allegations of harassment may accept.
Evaluating the situation and reviewing the claims and evidence against your company will play a crucial role when fighting back against allegations that you violated employment laws by allowing workplace harassment.