You may have heard a lot about harassment and discrimination in the media with the “Me Too” movement and antidiscrimination laws tied to sexual orientation. What can a business do prevent these situations and the disruption to employees, vendors, and customers?
Discrimination in the Workplace
Discrimination takes place when one employee limits another employee’s prospects for success in the workplace due to protected characteristics, such as sex, age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or veterans’ status, to name a few. Discrimination can also occur when employers routinely or selectively ignore acts of harassment that appear to violate an employee’s civil rights. Harassment can occur through an employee, broker, or vendor too. If someone comes forward with a complaint and the company takes minimal or no action, the business can head toward choppy legal waters. There could be civil actions, an injunction, a temporary restraining order, fines, imprisonment, and more. If the case goes to court or the press hears about this allegation, the business could be all over social media and news organizations in a very negative light.
Another risk could occur after the incident where employees or managers take retaliatory action against the employee who filed a complaint of harassment or discrimination. That, too, is illegal, and resolution could be painful, disruptive, and expensive for a business.
How to Handle the Situation
When an issue like this comes up, a business owner or manager should partner with a professional (Human Resources, an Employment Law Attorney, or an external consultant) to complete not only a careful investigation of the allegations, but take appropriate action that is documented should the enforcing agencies ask for information. An investigation report will be the best legal documentation that shows the organization takes such allegations seriously and acts appropriately to resolve the issue. If you don’t know much about these laws, DORA offers a free education venue for businesses. Here is the link to find more information: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dora/civil-rights/training. Or speak to an HR consultant or Employment Law attorney for guidance. Whatever you do, don’t dismiss the allegation as “an overreaction” without being absolutely sure it’s NOT discrimination or harassment. Finally, expect employees and vendors to behave professionally in the workplace and let everyone know unprofessional conduct will not be tolerated.