No Greater Time Than the Present
Every single time I turn on the news, I hear yet another story regarding workplace sexual harassment allegations. All summer long in Iowa, we followed highly publicized cases that had worked their way to the jury. For the past two weeks, we have all been hearing about the Harvey Weinstein situation. Social media pages have been flooded with the #metoo campaign. This morning while driving into work, I heard about the California Senate planning an outside investigation into widespread sexual harassment allegations.
As an employment defense attorney, I’ve been in the trenches with my clients over the years and seen the gamut of harassment and discrimination claims. One thing is certain, an employer is in a much better situation if it can prove the Company exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct workplace harassing conduct.
My clients range from small “Mom and Pop” type businesses to Fortune 500 companies. I’ve seen employers that have “never gotten around to” putting together an Employee Handbook to others that have hundreds of pages of text. All Companies have an affirmative obligation to exercise reasonable care to prevent civil rights violations and the law gives credit to those that make reasonable efforts to do so.
As is readily evident by the #metoo campaign, it is rare for an employee to have gone through their working career without experiencing some form of harassment in the workplace. Acknowledging this fact and creating policies and procedures in your workplace that actually foster honest and accurate reporting of workplace harassment and discrimination is critical. Some key steps include:
- Creating a work culture based on respect and dignity that is free of harassment, discrimination or any form of mistreatment.
- Developing a written Anti-Harassment Policy and a written Anti-Retaliation policy.
- Distributing the policies and training employees on the policy language on at least an annual basis.
- Training employees on the Company’s expectations – zero tolerance for misconduct, horseplay, inappropriate touching, bullying, inappropriate jokes and harassment.
- Ensuring that there are numerous individuals available to whom an employee can report allegations of harassment. Consider an anonymous reporting hotline or other anonymous reporting procedure.
- Taking all complaints seriously and investigating fully. Take disciplinary action, if appropriate.
- Closing the loop on the investigation by following up with the individual that brought forth the complaint, if known. Reiterate the Company’s policy on anti-retaliation for bringing forth the complaint. Enforce your policy, if necessary.
There is no greater time than the present to prioritize taking steps toward creating a work environment that is free of discrimination and harassment. Contact your MWH Law Group attorney today if you have any questions.
This article is a publication of MWH Law Group LLP and is intended to provide general information regarding legal issues and developments to our clients and other friends. It should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or situations. For further information on your own situation, we encourage you to contact the author of the article or any other member of the firm.
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CONTACT ATTORNEY JULIE T. BITTNER
Julie T. Bittner
Partner – West Des Moines
1501 42nd St., Suite 465, West Des Moines, IA 50266
P: (515) 453-8509 / F: (515) 267-1408
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