Could a workplace harassment claim shut down your business?

Blog located in Culture, HR Solutions posted on May 11, 2018

When was the last time you awoke to an issue in your business that had been going on for a while before you became aware of it? The workplace harassment issue is exactly that for so many business owners. You could get side-swiped with a workplace harassment issue that takes you to court with legal fees that could ultimately shut down your business.

We understand what it takes to manage your business on a day to day basis. To get things done you need to rely on your people. And this is exactly why some business owners are getting blind-sided by workplace harassment claims.

In this piece we are going to provide you information that will heighten your awareness to the issue and provide you with some tools and next steps you can take to protect yourself.

You can get sued even after the employee has resigned

Running a small business often means having small budget. We get it! But a legal case can be so expensive as to threaten the future of your company. Not only is it important to protect your company financially from any harassment issues. You will also be providing a healthier more enjoyable work environment to your team. So you see, there are both top line and bottom line benefits to you and your business in taking the time needed to address this area.

Here is why you need to care about this issue! In a recent decision, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled to pay a former employee $10,000 for claiming damages related to sexual harassment by her former manager.

This means that as a business owner, the law sees you as responsible for providing a safe work environment to both current and former employees. Business has been measurably changed by the #Metoo movement. We now see an openness, truth-telling and lack of fear in being vocal by individuals who have experienced workplace harassment both sexual and physical. We are seeing a higher incidence of people, women, men, cross-gendered, visible minorities speaking up and reporting workplace harassment incidents.

So as a business owner who may feel your business does not have these issues, you owe it to yourself to look again. Your next step is to carry out interviews with staff as part of an investigation. Be careful in who you select to do this. If you decide to use a staff member make sure that person is not part of the problem and is capable to ask the right questions. The most successful initiatives involve bringing in an HR consultant to work with your team. As an outsider who is trained professionally in these areas, your staff will be provided a safe confidential environment in which to share any information they have, and which you very much need.

Keep in mind that if the investigation is deemed not comprehensive by a Ministry of Labour inspector, a second, third-party investigation can be ordered at your expense, and expose your business to more compliance scrutiny. So you can see that the most effective and cost-efficient option is to bring in an HR consultant for this type of issue.

Create a working environment that your employees perceive as harassment-free

Once the investigation is complete the next step is to secure your business from any future threats of workplace harassment. Therefore you must look at actively fostering communication with your employees, and have your employees communicate freely with each other.  Most businesses have improvements to make in this area, which are flagged by the HR consultant during their investigation.

Avoid being perceived as secretive about sensitive issues

A common mistake business owners make is being secretive when it comes to sensitive issues. This raises flags for employees. And for an employee that has been victimized they will be wary of secretive behaviour. They talk with others at work, and their views cloud the perceptions of others. Instead, share with your employees current news relative to the workplace and business ask for their feedback. Make them part of the solution. By frequently engaging with your employees, you will reinforce open communication and encourage transparency. You will see the associated benefits of increases in workplace productivity, and stimulate good behaviour. You will be spending on building your business instead of incurring the much higher cost which is the result of not having taken action when you could have.

Disgruntled employees will talk over social channels and this is bad for your brand

Don’t overlook the social ripple – your employees are telling others about their workplace harassment experiences, and likely some of this is happening over social. Your hard work in building your business and its reputation is being eroded by commentary that is found on the social networks. So by taking steps to creating a harassment-free working environment you will be protecting your business from negative press. Because if you don’t communicate your policy to your employees, they will seek advice elsewhere. By then the problem will be a much more formidable one that you will be forced to address.

What is your next step for a Workplace Harassment Policy & Plan?

So where should you start with addressing your business workplace and any possible harassment? In our recent blog piece, “Dealing with Workplace Sexual Harassment as a Small Business Owner”  we provided some excellent starting points for you. Plus – we have a free content upgrade for you! Check out our latest infographic Sexual Harassment Sins. You can also download a pdf version at the bottom of the page. We have many more tools to help you along your journey so don’t hesitate to reach out to us here.

Small Business Owners must also be HR Experts! 
No one said managing people was easy.  Staffing costs are increasing monthly.  Mis-steps are painful, damaging to your reputation, and can very expensive! 

Get on the road to developing your Small Business HR Expertise today.   
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