Offensive behavior and harassment are at best an unpleasant distraction and at worst a life-changing and business-ending trauma. You should always put an end to the behavior as soon as you become aware of it.
It’s About Perception
Offensive behavior or harassment is a matter of perception. It’s not what someone does or says; it’s how the other person perceives it.
For example, if one employee tells another that they look nice, it could be a complement but it could also be a sexual advance. Many factors come into play, including the relationship between the two parties, prior interactions and the delivery of the message.
Offensive Behavior or Harassment?
In general, an incident is considered offensive behavior if it is a one-time occurrence and harassment if it’s ongoing.
For example, if an employee sends a “joke” email to the entire building and someone perceives it as inappropriate, it could be considered offensive behavior. If an employee sends out a joke email daily, weekly or at the beginning of each month, it could be considered harassment.
It’s essential for businesses to include strong anti-harassment policies and resolution procedures in their employee handbooks.
Education and awareness is the strongest deterrent against inappropriate behavior. If a company makes it clear what it considers offensive behavior or harassment, puts it in writing and establishes clear guidelines on how to handle it, employees will have it on their radar and know what to do if it ever comes up.
Business owners should consider adding an Employment Practices Liability (EPL) rider to their insurance package.
With a harassment lawsuit, you can count on a hit to your company’s image, morale and productivity. When it comes to actual dollars spent on such a lawsuit, attorneys can start at $300.00 per hour and easily rack up 100 hours or more. If the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gets involved, you could be facing two rulings and two separate settlements.
An EPL rider could help offset the costs. With a rider, you could pay a deductible in the $20,000-to-$30,000 range, but with a lawsuit, you could pay hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Nip It in the Bud
It’s critical that business owners, managers and employees recognize offensive behavior or harassment and put an immediate end to it. This type of behavior can ruin a workplace environment and cause trauma to those involved.
It can also close your business doors. The fallout from a harassment lawsuit is more than many businesses can survive.