So, is this the kind of adverse publicity and expense your company needs?
ABM Industries Settles EEOC Sexual Harassment Suit For $5.8 Million. [September 2, 2010] ABM Industries, Inc… will pay $5.8 million and provide other relief to a class of 21 Hispanic female janitorial workers, settling an egregious sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today… [EEOC press release]
What happened to these women is shocking. The outcome from the EEOC lawsuit is not.
This did not have to happen and the company did not have to have this level of liability for the actions of its employees. Sound preventative practices may have eliminated the egregious activity and may have limited the company’s liability. Here are actions that every company should practice:
- Get top level management commitment to prohibit and prevent harassment in the workplace, including any environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile or offensive.
- Publish, with ready access to everyone, a clear written policy prohibiting harassment and giving specific examples of the kinds of behaviors that are prohibited. Include behavior by clients, customers, vendors, and contractors. See the EEOC’s discussion of sexual harassment. Get help drafting your anti-harassment policy, and remember that a good anti-harassment policy will cover all types of harassment, not solely sexual harassment.
- Set up a reporting process that any employee is encouraged to use; include an avenue for filing a report independently of the employee’s supervisory chain.
- Investigate any claim promptly, thoroughly, and independently. Results should be rigorously documented. Consider using an independent third party to investigate any claim; make sure the investigator will be perceived as credible, independent, and autonomous.
- Take appropriate action promptly based on the findings. Report your findings, and actions, to the person making the claim or reporting the possible harassment.
- Regularly train managers and employees about the company’s anti-harassment policy: what constitutes harassment, how to report any harassment, what managers should do if they hear a possible claim of harassment or observe behavior that is questionable.
Employees need to know that possible harassment is taken seriously, good faith reports have no potential for negative consequences, claims will be investigated, and prompt corrective action will be taken.
Properly implemented policies, communication, training, investigation and action can minimize the risks a company carries. Even when you may not have been able to prevent a particular event, you may be able to limit or eliminate the company’s liability by credibly demonstrating that:
- you had communicated the appropriate policies and delivered appropriate training to all employees and managers;
- employees knew how and to whom to report any event or concern; and
- any report would be appropriately and promptly investigated, and appropriate action would have been taken.
Contact me to review your current policies and practices and give you an independent perspective on what you’re doing, and what more you should be doing, to manage the risk for your company. I look forward to talking with you.
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