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June 2015 Archives

Avoiding harassment and discrimination claims

Running a business in Pennsylvania can be incredibly rewarding, but there's not a single business owner who would ever make the argument that it's easy. Aside from balancing the books and trying to keep customers happy, employers must take steps to keep their employees satisfied, a task that's easier said than done.

In fact, disgruntled employees are just an unfortunate part of the process. The scary part comes when one of those disgruntled employees decides to file a discrimination or harassment claim against your company. Even if you're completely innocent, the accusations can cause untold damage and can take you away from the actual running of the business.

With that in mind, here are a few things you can do as a business owner to try to avoid these types of situations:

  • Use state and federal guidelines to make an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy, make sure your employees know their rights and make sure you follow the law.
  • Many employees may participate in harassing behavior because they don't know any better. Paying for awareness training now could save you a bundle down the road.
  • Take complaints seriously, regardless of how small they may seem to you, and deal with them fairly and in a timely manner.
  • Use someone you trust to investigate any complaints your employees have.
  • Keep documentation of everything. You never know what small detail may come back to haunt you later.

In addition, having an attorney to help guide you through these processes, and any potential issues, can be invaluable.

On employee regulation, and the compliance problem

Here's an interesting thought for the day: have you ever considered that having compliance codes and rules that are too strict may actually have the opposite effect that you would imagine they would have? Obviously any company needs to have some level of compliance codes and rules. But are too many -- or too strict -- compliance codes actually breeding an environment of non-compliance?

Some research indicates that, yes, too much compliance may actually contribute to misconduct. But how could this be?

Well, in a lot of ways, it all comes down to human nature. Take, for example, reporting an offense that you committed to the police. Some people may actually tell the police about something illegal they did. But man people wouldn't. That's the first problem with strict or plentiful compliance codes -- employees simply aren't going to out themselves for misconduct.

That, in turn, leads to a lot of lying and covering up -- and again, there may be some people out there who wouldn't lie all the time. But most, if not all, people lie a little some of the time.

What it really comes down to is this: as a company, do you want robust and myriad compliance rules that could create more misconduct? Or do you want to inject some understanding and compassion into that equation, and potentially allow your employees to learn from their misconduct or improprieties, and thus reduce misconduct over the long run?

Neither question has a correct answer, and there are no definitive outcomes in this discussion. Obviously, compliance is very, very important in the world of business and employment law. But compliance does not guarantee the elimination of misconduct.

Source: Harvard Business Review, "Compliance Alone Won't Make Your Company Safe," David De Cremer and Bjarne Lemmich, May 18, 2015

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