You have put together a comprehensive policy to prevent workplace harassment and abusive conduct at your business. You have established a clear procedure for reporting incidents to management, including multiple avenues for employees to choose from, and you made sure all employees have signed a written acknowledgement that they have received a copy of the policy.
So as the employer, you are covered. Right?
“I wouldn’t say they’ve covered all the necessary bases,” says attorney Michael Shadiack of Connell Foley. “It’s more like, ‘so far, so good.’ All of those things are essential both for preventing workplace harassment and protecting your company legally if an employee behaves badly. But they are just the first steps.
Join Us This Friday for Getting Personal: Knowing the Legal Liabilities of a Hostile Work Environment
“The employer needs to be sure all employees are trained to understand the policy, the type of behavior that can violate the policy, and the procedure for reporting any incident to management,” Shadiack says.
“Then, the next step can best be expressed in the form of a question: Do your supervisors and managers know what’s expected of them?” added Shadiack. “When I conduct workplace harassment prevention training for a business, I always recommend an additional training component for managers and supervisors so they understand their obligations under the law and the proper steps to take.”
Regular attendees at NJBIA’s HR seminars will know that training managers and supervisors about the rules is at the top of the list of best practices for preventing workplace harassment and fully complying with a host of other workplace rules. After all, employees usually go to their supervisors when they have a problem or a request. If your supervisors don’t know the rules and their responsibilities, they could subject the company to costly legal liabilities.
Should harassment rise to the level of creating a hostile workplace, the stakes are even higher, because New Jersey courts have been holding individual supervisors personally liable if they knew about an incident or action and did not act to address it.
“Unlike Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which does not provide for individual employee liability, New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination carries potential personal liability for supervisors under the ‘aiding and abetting’ provision,” Shadiack said.
“If an employee tells a sexist joke and a supervisor hears it, does the supervisor know the legal requirements?” Shadiack asks. “If employees want to file a complaint with management, would your managers and supervisors know the complaint procedure and where to direct them?
“The answers could be the difference between properly and successfully handling an employee’s concern or, alternatively, the company and the supervisor(s) facing a potential lawsuit and the risk of having to pay a lot of money for defense costs and damages to the employee, possibly out of the supervisor’s own pocket,” Shadiack cautioned.
Too often, employers overlook whether their supervisors know the employment laws which they are legally obligated to uphold. Shadiack recommends practical training for those who direct the work of other employees, not just on avoiding workplace harassment, but the many federal and state employee leave laws, overtime rules, hiring and firing best practices, equal pay laws, background check requirements, and a host of other workplace mandates.