You already know that federal mandates, as well as laws in many states, prohibit workplace harassment. What you might not know is that the term itself can be a little misleading. When you hear “workplace harassment” you may think it only applies to behavior that happens in the workplace during work hours. That’s a dangerous line of thinking that can put you, your employees, and your business at risk.
Several court cases have established that inappropriate behavior can be considered workplace harassment if it occurs between parties who have an employment-based relationship regardless of where or when it takes place. Neither the harasser nor the victim need to be on the clock or in the workplace for behavior to be considered harassment. Here are a few examples of situations that occur outside of work, but could still be considered harassment under employment law.
- A supervisor sexually propositions an employee in the parking lot after work hours.
- Inappropriate and unwanted touching takes place when employees meet for happy hour after work.
- An employee is taunted about her appearance while away at a conference.
- A vendor or customer follows an employee home after work to ask for a date or sexual favors.
Electronic communication and social media can also be the source of harassment that happens outside the workplace. Inappropriate texts, emails, messages, or tagging on social media can be considered workplace harassment regardless of when it takes place or whether or not company-owned accounts or devices were used in the act.
Managers, supervisors, and business owners can be held personally liable when an employee is harassed, regardless of where the harassment took place. So what can you do to protect yourself? First, provide a clear and comprehensive anti-harassment policy to all employees. Then, be sure to train all your employees on what that policy says. Harassment prevention training should include your company’s policy against harassment, a variety of examples of harassment, and how to report harassment. All employees and managers should be trained upon hire and re-trained annually. Finally, take all reports of harassment seriously. Make sure supervisors and managers know that all reports of harassment must be investigated swiftly and completely.
Online Workplace Harassment Prevention Training
Online anti-harassment training courses can help managers and employees see the big picture of harassment by answering important questions that are often misunderstood. Click here for more information.