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Business owners not immune from mistakes involving failure to report
Business owners reading news reports about child abuse might think they’re immune from mistakes involving failure to report.
Although there are obvious dissimilarities, there is one important connection between a business owner or manager and those the law labels as “mandated reporters” when allegations of abuse are made.
If you own or operate a business, a single complaint such as sexual harassment literally changes your job, at least temporarily. When such an allegation occurs, an organization takes on new liability, potentially enormous liability.
Up to the point of an allegation being made, an organization or company might have done everything reasonably within its power to prevent harassment from occurring. But once an allegation is made, the organization still has the legal obligation to conduct a thorough and timely investigation. The alleged victim, the alleged perpetrator and any potential witnesses must be competently questioned so that management obtains a clear picture of what happened.
The other element of responsibility revolves around the issue of timeliness. The investigation of the allegation must begin within 72 hours of management receiving notice. Once management has a clear picture of what happened, then a proper and appropriate response to the facts must be made.
What is an appropriate response? As far as the government is concerned, employers cannot do too much to protect their employees. This almost suggests that employers can overreact with approval. Employers can do too little—they can underreact—and that can get them in trouble, but they can't do too much.
With this in mind, what is a proper and appropriate response if sexual harassment is found to have occurred? Management should take a very strong stand in the face of sexual harassment. The organization, to protect both itself and the victim, cannot underreact. Bullying and other forms of harassment have some regulatory differences, but these issues are essentially the same. If you receive a complaint, you must react, quickly and correctly.
There are also several steps that should be taken to prevent sexual and other forms of harassment within an organization. In fact, an organization can nearly make itself “judgment proof” if it takes the following five steps. Again, these are for sexual harassment, but similar policies can be followed for other issues such as racial harassment, bullying, etc.:
• Establish a sexual harassment prevention policy.
• Conduct mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for all existing employees.
• Provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for all new employees.
• Provide permanent reminders of the policy (in the form of a poster, posted on all employee bulletin boards).
• Provide intermittent reminders of the policy (in the form of a paycheck stuffer) two times per year.
Taking these steps demonstrates to the federal Department of Labor and any state human rights commission that the organization is practicing comprehensive sexual harassment prevention. This demonstrates the company's seriousness when it comes to providing an environment free of sexual harassment.
Steve Cohen is president/partner of Labor Management Advisory Group Inc., and HR Solutions: On-Call. He has more than 35 years of specialized experience solving HR problems in companies of all sizes. He recently wrote "Mess Management: Lessons from a Corporate Hit Man." He'll be providing insight on HR topics every month exclusively for KCBCentral.