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August 14, 2018
Tips for Avoiding Headlines and Legal Landmines

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Tips for Avoiding Headlines and Legal Landmines

Paul O. Lopez | 6/1/2018

Hollywood scandals have captured the headlines over the last few months relating to sexual harassment. Business owners and managers are focusing on the important issue of how to deal with harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The following actions can help organizations prevent inappropriate conduct.

1) Ensure Proper Training of HR Personnel and Management If your HR personnel and management are not well versed in handling these issues, the company will inevitably be exposed to workplace harassment and discrimination claims.

2) Provide Written Anti-Harassment Policies to All Employees Employee handbooks must be current and available to all employees. There should be documentation that all employees have acknowledged receipt of the handbook and/or they have access to it electronically.

3) Ensure Multiple Reporting Channels Courts frown upon employers that fail to provide their employees with several reporting channels. Diligently think through who receives employee complaints and then make sure that the identity of these individuals is clearly communicated to employees.

4) Provide Mandatory Harassment Training Even if you have to break it up into two or three sessions to ensure that most employees receive the training, this is a nominal investment of resources which could pay substantial dividends in the event of workplace lawsuits.

5) Put Anti-Retaliation Policies in Place Employees should fully understand they will not be retaliated against in the event that they report any workplace incidents or issues. A failure to remind employees of this could be viewed unfavorably by a court or the EEOC in the event a claim is brought against the company.

6) Investigate Confidentially and Contemporaneously HR personnel should be experienced and trained in how to confdentially investigate allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination. You do not want inexperienced HR staff to bungle an investigation. Ignoring or moving slowly in an investigation could lead to further repercussions if the workplace incidents continue while the company fails to quickly look into the complaints.

7) Provide Documentation Every investigation should properly document the victim’s statement, the alleged harasser’s statement and witness statements, if any. The company must also document its plan of action if one is called for, along with the harasser disciplinary action.

8) Retain and Preserve Evidence Your company must have electronic data retention policies in place and ensure IT personnel are well versed in this area.

“Harassment and discrimination in the workplace are generally more nuanced than the highly publicized cases. If left unaddressed, innuendo and inappropriate comments made by co-workers and supervisors may lead to substantial liability for the company.”

— Paul O. Lopez, Tripp Scott COO

Failing to take these and other measures that ensure a safe and productive workplace environment can lead to substantial exposure. More importantly, a company can take a massive public relations hit in its community if it is viewed as insensitive to or callous about the rights of its female employees and other employees that fall in a protected class. The costs of such a public relations disaster could be incalculable. Make sure you have experienced trial and employment counsel who are adept at dealing with these issues so that they can insulate your company as best as possible from becoming the headline of the day.

About the Author Paul O. Lopez, a director and the chief operating offi cer for Tripp Scott, has chaired the fi rm’s Litigation Department since 2010. Mr. Lopez leads the fi rm in experience with complex business litigation including labor and employment and workplace and employment law compliance counseling.

For more than 40 years, Tripp Scott has played a leadership role in issues that impact business such as employment law. This information is shared as a reminder of steps to prevent workforce harassment claims.

Tripp Scott Law Firm

Fort Lauderdale • Tallahassee
954.525.7500 • TrippScott.com

 

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