Harassment Education Is a Must

Ponder for a moment the guidance federal courts are now offering employees. First case in point: Punitive damages are appropriate if an employer fails to adopt a harassment policy and complaint procedure and to educate its workforce on the subject.Second case in point: An employer’s existing harassment policy was ineffective because: (1) it was not posted; (2) management received no training on the policy; and (3) a signed acknowledgement of receipt did not appear in employee’s personnel files.

Publish Harassment Policies or Pay the Consequences

What’s the inference to be drawn from these decisions? Federal judges are offering free advice, and a warning. Publish your harassment policies and complaint procedures, and provide educational guidance on the intent of these policies to both management and to the rank and file, or face liability, including punitive damages.

This emerging trend of decisions represents the continuing evolution of our society’s efforts to eradicate harassment and discrimination from the workplace. Roughly a decade ago, the emphasis was on the written word. “Adopt and publish effective policies,” the courts and civil rights agencies were mandating. Employers listened, and to their credit, most implemented effective harassment policies and complaint procedures.

Provide Training to Employees

Now, the emphasis is on education. It’s not good enough to simply include politically correct wording in your policy manuals and employee bulletin board postings. The courts now ask you to “walk the walk” and support the written word with meaningful, proactive conduct.

Think of it this way. Training in the area of harassment and discrimination, like other potential employment challenges, is exactly like an insurance policy. You don’t invest in insurance because of a problem that you know to exist in the present. Insurance premiums protect against the “possibility” of bad things happening in the future.
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Tim Dimoff, Speaker, National Expert, Author: