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Know the Law: Preventing Unfair Behavior Claims

Written by: Rachel Adams Ladeau

Published in the Union Leader (3/12/2018)

Q: I am the president of a company that has around 60 employees. Since the “#metoo” movement got started, all my male managers are walking on eggshells. They worry that a joke or misunderstanding could result in them losing their job, their family and their reputation.

My managers are all good people, and would never discriminate or engage in sexual misconduct. In the “#metoo” climate, how do we prevent unfair accusations? 

A: False accusations can have devastating consequences. While you cannot control whether someone will bring a false or unfair claim of discrimination or sexual misconduct, you can create an environment that makes those claims much more unlikely.

Here are some important steps you can take: 

1. Reframe your thinking. 

Sexual harassment and misconduct are relevant issues for every workplace — even those with managers who generally mean well. Failing to take seriously the possibility that sex-based discrimination could occur in your workplace is a critical mistake.

2. Have your sexual harassment and nondiscrimination policy reviewed and updated. 

Does the policy’s terminology reveal it was drafted many years ago? Does it include relevant examples of unacceptable behavior that are more common/everyday, along with the extreme forms? Does the policy correctly identify the person to whom complaints should be directed? Does it set forth a clear procedure for investigating those complaints? Does it contain a strong nonretaliation policy?

Make it a habit to have your human resources team and/or legal counsel review this policy every year or two.

3. If you don’t hold annual harassment and nondiscrimination trainings, start.

Holding regular harassment and nondiscrimination trainings not only prevents employees from getting into hot water, it sends a strong message that the company takes these matters seriously. In-person trainings are best, as are separate trainings for supervisor-level employees.

Trainings also are the perfect opportunity to redistribute updated harassment and nondiscrimination policies to all employees. 

An experienced human resources professional or employment counsel can design and administer a training that is relevant, engaging and comprehensive.

4. Consider general management training. 

Managing others does not come naturally to everyone. Ensure that supervisor-level employees receive training (formal or informal) on how to interact with subordinates in a respectful manner; how to balance friendliness and kindness with professionalism; and how to administer criticism in a productive way. 

Employees who feel they are treated fairly are far less likely to bring unjustified discrimination claims.

Rachel Ladeau can be reached at [email protected].

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton, Professional Association. We invite your questions of business law. Questions and ideas for future columns should be addressed to: McLane Middleton, 900 Elm St., Manchester, NH 03101 or emailed to [email protected]. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.

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