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How To Deal With Workplace Harassment in Your Small Business
March 03, 2020

How To Deal With Workplace Harassment in Your Small Business

Back in the day, workplace harassment wasn’t taken seriously. Today, however, it’s a huge issue that can take a serious toll on your small business. Workplace harassment has the potential to create an uncomfortable work culture that forces your top employees to leave and damages public perception.

In addition, it can impede productivity and prevent you from meeting your goals.If you’re a business owner wondering how to deal with harassment, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ll explore this topic and provide you with some useful tips for handing this serious matter.

Harassment Is No Laughing Matter

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Commission, workplace harassment is an illegal act that can take multiple forms. Offensive jokes, slurs, and name calling are all common examples. Physical assaults or threats, disrupting objects or pictures, intimidation, and put-downs are also forms of workplace harassment.

When an employee gets harassed at work, they may feel uncomfortable and unsafe. This can prevent them from performing their work duties properly and force them to look for another job. Persistent workplace harassment can lead to a hostile work environment which affects all employees, not just the ones being harrassed.

If your goal is to create a safe, productive workplace for employees, it’s important to take harassment very seriously. In the event you notice or are told about a situation where harassment may be present, take action immediately.

Don’t sit back and ignore the problem, as doing so can make things worse and lead to devastating consequences. These consequences may include employee turnover, lost customers, reduced revenue, and a tarnished reputation. They can make it difficult for you to meet your bottom line and grow your small business. By being proactive about workplace harassment and taking it seriously, you can save money, time, and headaches down the road.

Prevalence of Workplace Harassment Over Time

How common is workplace harassment? Unfortunately, it’s a growing concern among various workplaces across the country. Believe it or not, U.S. workplaces pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to victims of workplace harassment every year.

While it’s a significant problem in all industries, it’s more prevalent in those that are dominated by males, such as construction and engineering. It’s also a huge issue in service-based industries where employees depend on tips.

Why is workplace harassment such an issue in the present day? First and foremost, there are more women in the workplace, leading to increased sexual harassment. Often, women are mistreated by their male colleagues or bosses.

This mistreatment is especially common when women move into positions of authority or step into historically male occupations. It’s important to note, however, that despite the fact that women are often targets for harassment, men are often victims of it too.

In addition, there’s more diversity in today’s working world, which can lead to conflicting opinions and viewpoints. Unfortunately, this can sometimes cause workplace tension or harassment.

Harassment Considerations For Business Owners

As a business owner, it’s essential to keep harassment out of your workplace. Here are some tips that can help you do so.

  • Set Clear Anti-Harassment Policies: It’s a good idea to determine what behavior you do and don’t accept in your workplace. Also, outline what consequences employees can expect if they don’t adhere to your policies.
  • Communicate Workplace Policies: Anti-harassment policies are only beneficial if you communicate them to your employees. Make sure current employees are aware of your policies and introduce them to new employees.
  • Explain How Employees Can Report Harassment: Sadly, many cases of harassment in the workplace don’t get reported. This is usually because employees are scared to tell their managers or simply don’t know how to.

To avoid this, encourage open communication so employees feel comfortable reporting uncomfortable situations. In addition, reinforce the fact that any employee that reports harassment is safe from retaliation.

  • Investigate and Address Complaints Immediately: Workplace harassment complaints should be taken care of as soon as possible. Putting them on the back burner can do more harm than good.
  • Remain Objective: Make every effort to remain objective until you’ve completed the investigation process.
  • Document Everything: Be sure to jot down the details of every conversation you have regarding a harassment complaint. Also, document any warnings you gave. A paper trail will be invaluable in the event of a lawsuit.
  • Offer Warnings: Sometimes, employees have no idea they’re engaging in harassing conduct. Therefore, be sure to give them warnings before letting them go. Once you warn them, keep a close eye on their behavior to ensure it doesn’t get worse.

Harassment Considerations For Employees

If you’re an employee who believes they’re a victim of workplace harassment, follow this advice.

  • Don’t Ignore the Problem: If you think you’re being harassed at work, the worst thing you can do is ignore the situation. You may find that things get worse if you simply let the harasser continue their behavior.
  • Tell the Harasser to Stop: Work up the courage to tell the harasser to stop whatever they’re doing or saying. If you don’t want to tell them in person, you can always send them an email. By doing so, you can prevent things from getting worse and empower other employees to speak up.
  • Write Down What Happened: Any time you believe harassment has occurred, document what happened. Include details on who was involved, when the incident took place, and why it may have been initiated.
  • Review Employer Manuals or Documents: Review employer manuals, as there may be language that explains the steps you should take if you suspect harassment.
  • Report the Misconduct: While it can be uncomfortable to inform your manager of what happened, doing so is important. Not only will reporting the conduct protect yourself, it will reduce the risk of further misconduct against other employees. Schedule a private appointment with your manager so you can clearly explain the situation.
  • Don’t Quit: Remember that workplace harassment is against the law. Therefore, your employer is legally obligated to put an end to it. Rather than quitting your job, speak to an employment lawyer to learn about your options.
  • Keep Performing Well: Even though it can be difficult to remain productive in a hostile work environment, it’s in your best interest to do so. Being a victim of harassment doesn’t give you the right to stop doing your job to the best of your ability.
  • File a Complaint with the EEOC: If you’ve tried to resolve the issue internally with no success, you can file a discrimination charge with the EEOC.

How To Deal With Harassment: Additional Tips

It’s normal for employers to feel anxious when they face harassment complaints. After all, these complaints can create unwanted tension, government investigations, and costly legal problems. If you receive a complaint, take a deep breath and know that you’re not alone. Workplace harassment is a common problem that you can’t always prevent.

Be sure to understand that the way you handle a workplace complaint can make all the difference in your business’s future. If you keep an open mind, treat the complainer with respect, and adhere to established procedures, you should be in good shape.

In the event you’re unsure of how to handle a situation, don’t hesitate to consult an experienced lawyer or investigator. It’s better to get professional support instead of brushing things off and hoping everything works out on its own. If you ignore the complaint, you’ll increase your chances of dealing with a lawsuit. This may damage your relationship with your employees in the process.

Our Final Thoughts

In a perfect world, workplace harassment wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. As a small business owner, you’ll likely have to deal with it at some point or another. Here’s the good news: If you have a good understanding of what harassment is and a solid plan in place for handling it, you’ll be able to reduce your risk of consequences and protect your business.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is workplace harassment?

According to the EEOC, workplace harassment is “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on race, color, religion, sex, gender/gender identity, nationality, age, physical or mental disability, or genetic information.”

Are there workplace harassment laws?

Yes, the EEOC enforces laws related to workplace harassment. If an employee believes their rights at work have been violated, they’re free to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC. It’s highly recommended that they attempt to resolve the issue internally before doing so.

What are some examples of workplace harassment?

Cruel religious jokes, racial slurs, unfair criticisms, intimidation tactics, physical attacks, and excessive, unrealistic demands are all considered types of harassment in the workplace.

Fora Financial

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Fora Financial is a working capital provider to small business owners nationwide. In addition, the Fora Financial team provides educational information to the small business community through their blog, which covers topics such as business financing, marketing, technology, and much more. If you’d like to see a topic covered on the Fora Financial blog, or want to submit a guest post, please email us at [email protected].