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Managers in crisis after mismanaging discrimination or harassment problems.

Discrimination and harassment are difficult-to-define problems that often rely on individual perceptions. Many employers apply faulty strategies that have costly consequences when dealing with discrimination and harassment.

Some of the most common mistakes employers make when it comes to discrimination and harassment are:

  1. Ignoring the issue.
    Not realizing that discrimination and harassment are common, everyday occurrences is one of the major issues employers face. The workplace is changing. What was acceptable behavior on the job five or ten years ago may now be the basis of a lawsuit. The type of behavior that is acceptable outside the workplace is not acceptable, no matter how funny it is, if it is seen as discriminatory or harassing. You and your managers must realize this and take action before it is too late.

  2. Procrastinating.
    When it comes to developing a discrimination- and harassment-free workplace, time is the enemy.  Postponing it to next week or next year will not prevent lawsuits.  If you do not have an anti-sexual harassment policy in place and procedures to follow that prevent discrimination and harassment, it could appear as if you are not concern about it.  If a complaint or lawsuit is filed, you may not be able to use the “avoidable consequences” defense to damages. If you lose, you could be liable for more money in fines and damages than you otherwise may have been.

  3. Not training employees on these issues.
    Many employers think of training as a waste of time and money. But in the long run, it is the only tool that prevents claims and problems. When you provide training on diversity, discrimination and other employment law issues, you are preventing not only discrimination and harassment, but many other types of problems from arising.

  4. Failing to assess workplace compliance with the law.
    Without an assessment, how do you know whether your policies and procedures are in accordance with legal requirements? An assessment will outline potential problems and liabilities. As such, it is one of the best investments you will ever make.

  5. Blaming the victim.
    If you are made aware of a problem, there is only one way to handle the situation that will diffuse it rather than inflame it. To handle a complaint, no matter how seemingly farfetched, you must be a sympathetic listener. Even asking “Are you sure?” could create more trouble.  The tone you set when you respond to the first mention of a sexual harassment problem usually determines whether it will be settled amicably or not.

  6. Punishing the injured party by moving them.
    If there is an allegation, it is essential to separate the parties immediately. You want the injured party to feel safe and the alleged harasser to stop the behavior until you can have a third party investigate the matter and determine what actually happened. Moving the “harasser” usually is the smarter choice. Moving the injured party can be seen as retaliation.

  7. Retaliating in other ways.
    If a person with good performance evaluations files a sexual harassment complaint and suddenly receives lower ratings and/or is ostracized within your company, she/he may perceive these actions as retaliation. You, the employer, are responsible for preventing retaliation. Because complaints can have an emotional impact on everyone involved, more retaliation complaints are being filed because employers fail to prevent these types of behaviors. Don't victimize the victim twice.

  8. Investigating the matter yourself.
    Even if you can be completely objective, an in-house investigation may not be perceived as impartial. You are part of management. As such, the injured party—and others—will assume the investigation was slanted in your favor, whether it was or not. Because perception plays an enormous role in these issues, you must be aware of potential ramifications.
  9. Failing to take action once an investigation is done.
    Part of a neutral investigation is the recommendations in the investigator's report. Neutral investigators usually offer structural recommendations that make policies easier to enforce, including the training of employees and the monitoring of conduct. If you go back to business as usual and do not follow up, you are exposing your company to greater liability.

  10. Not resolving disputes as quickly as possible.
    During a dispute, employers often feel the need to defend their honor or be proven right—an attitude which may be more costly in the long run. If you have a problem, you need an expert to help you resolve your problem and prevent recurrences.

  11. Not calling in an expert during a crisis.
    How many times have you turned to friends, relatives or colleagues for advice about business? While this may work in some situations, discrimination and harassment problems require the advice of an expert—someone who knows the law and is trained in this field, knows what questions to ask, what issues to search for, and more importantly the legal implications of unresolved discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

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Copyright 2006 The Rosa Law Group. All rights reserved.

    This information is intended as a resource only; it is not legal advice. For specific situations, we recommend you consult with legal counsel.

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Last Update: Tuesday, My 23, 2017

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