No organization wants to be slammed with a discrimination allegation due to toxic workplace activity. But the reality is that studies show US-based companies face an 11.7% chance of being charged with with employment harassment and discrimination. And when the cost of attorney fees and settlements add up to an average of $125,000, it’s clear that – despite the cliché – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At Synergy, we know how important employee trust and happiness is to an organization, which is why we’re focused on preventing harassment in the workplace.
Here are two really important statistics: First, the average duration of an employment harassment and discrimination case is 275 days. Second, 81% of all harassment allegations result in no settlement. While the second fact sounds like good news, these statistics are in fact equally detrimental to employers.
275 days is a huge amount of time for your company and its employees to be stewing over such a negative scenario. It’s a major disruption to employee morale and productivity when the case is always on the radar. The fact that 81% of these lawsuits fall through just means that in the vast majority of cases, it’s a massive nuisance and disruption occurring for no clear reason. Either way, morale, production and company reputation are going to take a big hit.
Another noteworthy fact is that the 11.7% chance we mentioned above is only a national average; several states see double or triple the probability because of more stringent state guidelines on top of federal legislation. As a partner in full service HR management, we would hate to see any of our clients face these types of allegations, so we understand how necessary it is to have a thorough understanding of workplace harassment and discrimination laws on both a federal and state level.
A well thought out policy for curbing workplace harassment and discrimination serves you not only in preventing any occurrences, but also in protecting your organization should harassment or discrimination occur despite your preventative action. This is thanks to the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense, which holds the employer not liable if they took care to prevent and correct any instance of illegal harassment. For example, if an employee brings forth a harassment charge but the employer can prove that this employee did not follow guidelines in reporting the occurrence, the employer may not be at fault. Your legal counsel can certainly assist you in exploring this defense further.
So what does preventing workplace harassment entail? In our view, it’s a three-part process.
The first step to building a harassment-free workplace is building a low-risk workforce. Thorough background screening of every employee is absolutely essential in the hiring process. Be aware of red flags should any history of workplace violence or discrimination show up in a background check.
Additionally, you should take the time to assess candidates for their emotional intelligence as well as their technical abilities.
Your employee handbook probably already includes a section on workplace harassment and discrimination. It’s important to re-evaluate this on a regular basis, ensuring that the verbiage and explanations are clear and concise. Be sure that you inform employees how to handle reporting the issue and what steps will be taken in resolving the matter.
Furthermore, regular employee training at every seniority level is vital. Many states have specific guidelines when it comes to harassment prevention training, and there are many resources out there to assist you in building thorough employee training programs for this purpose.
Your workplace anti-harassment policies should carefully lay out how your supervisors, management, HR staff and others should respond to any reports of harassment and discrimination. The EEOC recommends that employers “express strong disapproval, develop appropriate sanction, inform employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under title VII, and develop methods to sensitize all concerned.” There should be a clear procedure for resolution and should encourage employees to come forward, ensuring their protection and confidentiality.
Ultimately, appropriate response requires an organization to be very aware of what is going on in their workplace. Emotionally cognizant supervisors and regular evaluation of your work environment are important in protecting employees.
At the end of the day, efforts towards preventing harassment in the workplace are key in protecting both your employees and your organization. Discrimination charges are toxic, costly, and time consuming for everyone, but the risk can be mitigated with careful hiring, thorough policies and training, and appropriate responses.