Building and maintaining a safe workplace takes the active involvement of an employer's human resources (HR) department. The purpose of HR is to accommodate the needs of employees and employers, as well as ensure that a company is in compliance with state and federal laws.
Among the many functions fulfilled by HR, protecting employees from discrimination and harassment is one of them. There are several ways HR professionals must address discrimination and harassment in order to resolve incidents or prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Prevention should be the standard course of action taken by HR. According to the Forbes Human Resources Council, employers should ensure that anti-discrimination training is established. Everyone (including those at the top) should be trained in a company's policies and culture of inclusion, as well as sensitivity to certain words, gestures, comments, and behaviors. Overall, employees should be trained and encouraged to help build a positive and safe work environment.
What if the harassment has already occurred?
If you have experienced harassment on the job or witnessed it happening to someone else, it's critical that you report it to your company's HR manager immediately. According to the Forbes HR Council, HR professionals should always be empathetic towards the person making the complaint. They should also provide a clear outline of how the issue will be addressed and what can be expected throughout the process.
Whether an employee is venting frustration or seeking action, HR professionals should listen and reflect on how the issue can be handled and if any action is required. They should also consider that the reasons for an incident being reported are valid. Everything else can be revealed through a thorough investigation.
How should workplace harassment be investigated?
First, HR professionals should take all harassment complaints seriously. Failing to do so may not only be a liability for the company, but will also likely allow the alleged behavior to persist.
HR professionals should then launch a prompt, in-depth, and unbiased investigation. No matter how heinous the incident may be, HR professionals should keep their emotions at bay and focus only on the evidence.
Physical evidence that may indicate that harassment has occurred can include emails, biased performance reviews, and unfair earning history. Witness statements can also be crucial during an investigation.
If HR suspects that there is an ongoing problem involving workplace harassment or discrimination, an audit into the company's hiring policies and previous incidents may need to be conducted.
What are my legal options?
If you experienced harassment on the job and reported it to HR, you did the right thing. In some workplaces, however, HR is understaffed and overwhelmed with other issues. Furthermore, if the harassment is being perpetrated by those at the top, putting an end to it without facing the possibility of retaliation may be difficult.
No matter who is responsible for perpetrating workplace harassment, they can and should be held accountable. An experienced attorney at Andrus Law Firm, LLC — based in Salt Lake City — can fight to uphold your legal rights and pursue justice on your behalf. To find out how we can help, contact us online to schedule your free consultation.