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Financial Reasons to Prevent Workplace Harassment

Lawsuits aside, employees in a hostile work environment are likely to be less productive.

Posted by Dawn Lomer on August 29th, 2011

Workplace harassment costs companies in many ways. It can give rise to harassment lawsuits and claims of a hostile work environment, which can cost a company dearly. But even if it doesn’t end in a lawsuit, it can undermine the atmosphere, cause employee dissatisfaction and affect overall morale.

Affirmative Action is Key

“To prevent a hostile work environment (and any claims alleging one), an employer needs to do two primary things,” says Thomas Simeone, a Washington, DC, trial attorney with Simeone and Miller, LLP. The first thing he advises all employers to do is to have a written policy that bans any conduct that could create a hostile work environment and requests that every employee immediately report to a supervisor any conduct they find offensive.

“The employer must then act to discipline and stop employees who create a hostile work environment, including supervisors and managers,” says Simeone. “In addition, if a company wants to provide training to all employees as to what is not permitted, that also helps. When apprised of conduct that an employee feels is offensive, the company must first investigate and then either discipline the offender … or explain to the complainant why the conduct is not offensive. In addition, the employer can also transfer employees or otherwise reach an arrangement to alleviate the concern. The key thing is that the company must take some affirmative action to address the concern,” says Simeone.

Protecting the Bottom Line

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“Hopefully, everyone wants to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing and hostility in the workplace of any kind is not the right thing,” says ethics consultant , psychologist and speaker Chris Bauer. “However, if that feels too ‘kumbaya’ for you, there are plenty of compelling financial reasons to prevent hostile work environment issues as well,” he says.

“Obviously risk management is an essential piece of running every business well. However, we need to remember that there are other ways in which preventing a hostile environment helps the bottom line both directly and indirectly as well. It’s not just avoiding lawsuits, as helpful as that is. Would anyone really argue that happier employees – given appropriate training and oversight – aren’t going to be more productive and that, in turn isn’t essential to an improved bottom line?” he asks. “Besides, the time, energy, and expense of replacing both the victims of a hostile workplace, and those who leave because of not wanting to risk being the next victim, are huge.”

Addressing Issues Before They Arise

“When it comes to speaking to employees about preventing a hostile work environment, make sure you spend at least as much time talking about why it is wrong as opposed to simply reciting the rules,” says Bauer. “Give them the tools to recognize what even could be construed as hostile as well as specific, ‘do-able’ steps to intervene appropriately or report inappropriate behavior to supervisors,” he says.

What’s In It For Me?

“Also, give your workers the information they need to see that everyone working together appropriately is going to be a part of everyone being more successful and not just to keep the company out of trouble. As with almost any kind of training, employees will be far more likely to develop skills if they will contribute to their personal success and not only the success of your company,” says Bauer.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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