Let’s say that you have a zero-tolerance harassment code of conduct in place at your business. You have defined what the behavior is and educated the employees. It goes well beyond the obvious inappropriate behavior (touching, unwanted romantic overtures, sharing NSFW photos, graphic commentary on an individual’s appearance) to include just plain verbal harassment, quid pro quo sexual propositions for promotions, or behavior that creates a hostile work environment. You have made a point of educating the staff (both male and female members), but unfortunately these rules allegedly went out the window.
There are both state laws in Texas and federal laws that make the employer possibly liable for the behavior of a supervisor. These laws also apply to non-supervisors or even customers if the employers knew or should have known it was happening.
There are several steps the employer/owner should take immediately:
•1. Take every complaint seriously and launch an investigation within two days. Do your due diligence and use an impartial third party if at all possible. It’s good idea to seek out legal counsel at this time. Inform the accused harasser directly that the alleged conduct is inappropriate and must immediately cease. If there is a protocol for employee grievances, follow it.
•2. Document everything. Keep detailed records of everything involved in this claim. Keep these in a file separate from the standard employee file.
•3. Limit contact between the accuser and the accused at least until the investigation is done. At the same time be mindful of transferring people against their will or otherwise appearing to retaliate.
•4. After the investigation is complete, a decision must be made. Determine if the claim is credible. Determine the appropriate discipline if it is credible.
No matter how careful a business owner may be, they still can get embroiled in a lawsuit. The following steps will go a long way towards protecting you and the business, but it may not be enough. If legal counsel hasn’t been sought by the end of the investigation, you should consider doing so if the alleged victim plans to take legal action in the courts. Sexual harassment is serious business and can be quite costly.