Running a business in New Jersey comes with many challenges. One of these is knowing the right ways to protect your business from lawsuits, which can cost you money and destroy your reputation.
This is especially true when it comes to sexual harassment claims. Even an allegation of sexual harassment that was not properly addressed can cause you problems that you cannot recover from.
It is important to know both how to reduce your chance of a sexual harassment lawsuit and how to address a sexual harassment claim if one arises.
Preventing sexual harassment claims
Have a strong anti-harassment policy in place. This can be included in your employee handbook or in a separate document.
Your policy should be detailed and explicitly state what types of behavior are prohibited. It should also clearly state how to report claims and steps that will be taken after a claim is reported. Review the policy with employees when they are hired.
Cultivate an environment of openness and communication. Some businesses may have an anti-harassment policy in place but maintain an environment that discourages reporting, which can render the policy useless.
Addressing a sexual harassment claim
If you receive a report of sexual harassment, address it quickly and proactively. Reassure the employee that they have done the right thing and that they will not face retaliation for coming forward.
Interview the employee and get as much information as you can. The more details you have, the better. Ask when and where the incident occurred, what was said or done and how the incident ended.
Remember that this may not be the only incident, so ask the employee about any prior harassment.
Interview any witnesses to the incident and make sure they also know that they will not face any punishment for telling the truth.
Write down everything you are told. Having proper documentation is essential for appropriately addressing a sexual harassment plan.
Sometimes a more thorough investigation by a third party into a sexual harassment claim is necessary. Do not feel as though you must handle it on your own, especially if you are a small business owner.
A sexual harassment claim could cost you quite a bit of money. The damages you pay could even include punitive damages if there is evidence you knew about the harassment and did not do anything.
This is in addition to court costs, attorney fees and back pay that you might be required to pay. It is easy to see how these costs can end up destroying a business.
Obtaining advice on setting up an anti-harassment policy and how to respond if a claim is made can go a long way toward minimizing the potential damage to your business.