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Now that you realize that discrimination and harassment are illegal, here's what can you do to prevent improper behavior in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that preventative measures are one of the best ways to combat workplace discrimination and harassment. Saying that, however, is easier than accomplishing it. Here are some tips on how to create a "friendly" workplace, where discrimination and harassment cease to exist.
Things An Employer Can Do:
- Establish an anti-discrimination and an anti-harassment policy that complies with federal and state laws. Provide the policy to your employees, and be prepared to abide by and enforce the policy.
- Invest time and expense into diversity training and awareness. Many types of harassment and discrimination spring from ignorance. Educated employees, who are taught to respect other cultures, races, and genders may be less likely to engage in harassing or discriminatory behavior.
- Inform supervisors and other managerial personnel that they are under strict orders to immediately report to you any complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment that they receive or any acts of harassment or discrimination of which they are aware.
- Designate a managerial or personnel employee to be in charge of receiving discrimination and sexual harassment complaints. Inform your employees and supervisors that any complaints or inquiries should be directed to that individual.
- Take any complaints of discrimination and harassment seriously, no matter how trivial or unbelievable they may seem at first glance. Employers have an affirmative duty to promptly investigate all complaints of discrimination and harassment.
- Designate an impartial managerial employee who has sufficient levels of authority in your company to investigate complaints. If someone without clout is appointed to investigate a matter, he or she may have difficulty in obtaining cooperation from the involved individuals.
- When investigating a claim, keep written documentation of your investigation efforts. Records should include the names of individuals with whom you spoke to and the gist of their conversations about the matter. If you ask for, or if anyone provides, a written statement concerning the matter retain a copy of that statement. All information about the investigation should be kept in a central file.
- Maintain levels of confidentiality and respond to discrimination and harassment claims in a discreet manner. The alleged victim deserves to be spared further embarrassment and harm, and the accused parties (particularly if they dispute the complaint) deserve some privacy as well. Limit the dissemination of information about the complaint to people who are on a need-to-know basis.
- Do not discourage or threaten employees who decide to seek the assistance of a federal or state human rights or employee rights agency or commission. They have a legal right to seek the counsel and assistance of the government, and if you try to prevent them from seeking that help, or penalize them if they do, you can face serious legal consequences.
- Consider the appropriateness of making interim decisions, while your investigation is proceeding, to prevent further harassment. Do not make an interim decision a punishment. For example, you cannot fire the accused harasser, or take away all of his or her job responsibilities while the investigation is being conducted. However, you may be able to move him or her to a different area of the office, or change his or her work hours so that the victim and harasser do not have further, potentially harmful, exposure to each other.
- If you find that discrimination or harassment has occurred, make the punishment for the accused fit the crime. For example, it may be appropriate to immediately terminate an employee who sexually attacked another employee. However, it may not be appropriate to fire an employee who brought one pornographic picture to the office that was seen or given to a person who was offended by it. If you over-penalize an employee, or under-penalize them, the rest of your workforce may receive mixed messages about your commitment to fairly and appropriately handle matters of discrimination and harassment.
Note: The punishment must target the wrongdoer, not the victim. You may run into legal difficulties if you try to reassign the victim, rather than the wrongdoer, even if the victim will not suffer a loss in pay or benefits due to the reassignment.
- Take steps to prevent future episodes of discrimination and harassment. Hold annual meetings with supervisors to remind them of their obligations to report incidents of discrimination and/or harassment that they observe or are told about. Consider conducting an annual anonymous questionnaire for employees that asks whether they have experienced any discriminatory or harassing behavior in the past year. This questionnaire will allow you to have a better idea of what is happening day-to-day with your company and will also show, should it be needed in the future, that you were aware of the potential for improper workplace behavior and that you were taking steps to inform yourself about it and look for ways to prevent it.
Things An Employee Can Do:
- Review your employer's anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Follow these policies.
- Report any incident of discriminatory or harassing behavior promptly. Only if you report the behavior will your employer be able to assist you in stopping it. In addition, if you report the behavior to your employer you may have a better chance of making a legal recovery farther down the road if you should decide to sue.
- Understand that same-sex harassment is just as illegal as opposite-sex harassment. In other words, a man can sexually harass another man, and a woman can sexually harass another woman. Realize, too that the sexual orientation of another person likely makes little difference in arguing that harassment did not occur. A heterosexual man can harass a heterosexual man, or a heterosexual man can harass a homosexual man. The same goes for women, as well.
- Above all else, treat your coworkers with the respect that all people deserve, regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex or sexual orientation. Just because someone looks different, talks different, believes in a different God, or has a disability does not mean that he or she are any less worthy of your tolerance and respect. No one can require you to befriend that individual, but your employer and the government can require you to refrain from humiliating, embarrassing, and making fun of that person because he or she are different from you.