Every employer has a responsibility to maintain a workplace free of bias, discrimination, and harassment. Failing to do so can result in reduced productivity and expensive claims that can cost a company valuable time and resources, as well as damage reputations. By being proactive, employers can prevent internal conflicts at work and avoid prolonged and costly litigation.
Workplace policies regarding everything from relationships to harassment and discrimination should be clearly laid out in an employee handbook. Employers should make an effort to provide education and training regarding sexual harassment and discrimination. Some people do not realize their behavior is inappropriate for the workplace or offensive to others, and training can help define the boundaries of what is acceptable at work.
Relationships at work, if permitted, require special attention to ensure that there is no favoritism or other negative impact on the work environment. There can be no disruption of the work that needs to be accomplished or the respect that should always be given to colleagues. Even the perception of favoritism due to a consensual relationship can be harmful. Should the relationship not be a lasting one, any retaliation or perceived retaliation must be avoided. Problems that do arise out of a workplace relationship should be handled according to the procedures outlined in the employee handbook with the proper documentation to ensure a successful resolution.
In general, retaliation claims are more problematic than any initial bias claims because of their success rate. When a complaint has been filed, it is crucial to set aside personal feelings, remain objective, and refrain from any action that could be interpreted as adverse or retaliatory. Any action that must be taken should be well documented with clear and valid business reasons.
This objective viewpoint is useful even before a situation develops into a complaint. In the workplace, it is always advisable to take a step back to evaluate internal communications and any promotions or evaluations. Approach the issue without consideration of personality conflicts or internal politics in order to reach objective conclusions. Taking the time to utilize this approach can prevent problems of perceived unfairness.
Finally, it is important to remember that in today’s connected world, things that happen outside the workplace can have a direct effect on the workplace itself. Work-related topics discussed on social media between co-workers can reveal proprietary information just as those co-workers’ own personal information becomes more vulnerable. When spending time with colleagues online or in person outside of work hours, conduct should be of a professional nature to avoid any conflicts that could surface at work.
Efforts to reduce internal litigation are not just a matter of financial cost. When issues of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation go unresolved in the workplace, it is not only the company’s external reputation that suffers, but also its internal standing with its own employees – something which no amount of money can repair.