In large part due to the #MeToo social media movement, the issue of workplace sexual harassment is trending. Now is the time for employers to ensure that they are in compliance with federal and state laws prohibiting workplace discrimination, including harassment.
Employers should have a solid harassment policy, training, and consistent enforcement practices, as set forth below:
- Policy. A strong anti-harassment policy will provide details pertaining to who is covered, examples of the types of behavior prohibited, a comprehensive reporting process, and an assurance of no retaliation. Communication of the policy content is key to successful enforcement. The policy should be presented to all employees in written format, with a signed acknowledgement of receipt, and available as a posting in a shared space such as a breakroom, in a handbook or manual, and on the company’s internal intranet if applicable.
- Training. New employees should be provided with training on the company’s prohibition of harassment as part of the onboarding process. Existing employees should receive regular refresher training during their employment. Did you know that under current Ohio law, managers and supervisors are “employers” as defined by Ohio law? Ohio Revised Code 4112.01(A)(2) provides in part this definition:
“Employer” includes the state, any political subdivision of the state, any person employing four or more persons within the state, and any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer.
Consequently, employers should also ensure that their management-level employees and above are trained regarding their obligations to identify, report, escalate and investigate complaints of harassment.
- Enforcement. It is critical to investigate complaints of harassment immediately. Investigations should be conducted by individuals who have been specifically trained to conduct such investigations, and should be kept confidential to the extent possible to minimize workplace disruption and discomfort for all involved. Once the investigation is concluded, no matter the determination, it is important to advise the complainant that the investigation has been completed and to reassure them that retaliation is prohibited.