Employers have long struggled about what to do when an employee comes forward with an allegation of sexual harassment. For employers in the restaurant, retail, or entertainment industries, the situations can be even more troubling because the accused harasser may have daily contact with customers and the workplace atmosphere may be more social with fewer barriers between the professional and the personal.
Now, more women – and men too – are coming forward with sexual harassment allegations and the risks and expectations for employers are very high. Sometimes the allegations involve incidents that occurred outside of work or before the people were working together. Whether or not the alleged harassment occurred in the workplace, employers need to be prepared to address any and all concerns.
There are a few important steps employers need to take NOW:
- Adopt and publicize a real “Open Door” policy so that employees feel free to raise concerns and know how concerns can be reported without fear of retaliation.
- Be observant, listen and ask questions when an employee’s behavior or performance changes at work – this may be a sign that something is wrong with the work environment, not just with one person.
- Be prepared take action to investigate and remediate when allegations and concerns are raised.
- Follow up – this may be the most important and most often ignored step. Connecting with the person who raised the concern reinforces the fact that her voice was heard.
Training and prevention are important but also be prepared for when things go wrong by having a plan in place to quickly address employee allegations.