accusation seriously. HR should explain the
employer’s anti-harassment policy to the
involved employees, explore informal reso-
lution, investigate the issue, and document
the findings. If the investigation uncovers
improper conduct, then appropriate correc-
tive actions must be taken. Depending on
the nature of the allegations and the scope of
the required investigation, employers should
consider retaining counsel in order to pre-
serve the confidentiality of the investigation
However, having a strong policy is insufficient if an employer does not make an effort to
educate employees on what the policy requires
and, perhaps more importantly, does not
demonstrate its commitment to consistently
enforcing the policy. Here are some good rules
for employers to implement in order to prevent
little things from growing into big things.
· The Golden Rule of the workplace – Treat
others as they would like to be treated.
This little twist on the well-known Golden
Rule can go a long way to preventing
workplace strife. If we treat people the way
we would like to be treated, there is a much
lesser risk that we will fail to notice when
our conduct is unwanted.
· You’re not as funny or as good-looking
as you think you are – Realize that we
don’t all share a common sense of humor.
If you’ve ever received an email from your
dad forwarding a joke-string, you likely
understand this point. We all grew up
around different dinner tables, with different cultural influences, and what may be
well within the realm of good taste for one
person may be offensive to another.
· What if your mom heard it – A good way
to judge whether a comment is appropriate for the workplace is to ask yourself
how you would feel if your mom heard
you make the comment. If you would
be embarrassed to explain to your mom,
child, or someone else you care about,
why you thought a comment was funny, it
probably is not workplace appropriate.
· Listen to Aretha – In her iconic anthem,
Aretha Franklin makes plain that all she’s
looking for is “a little respect (just a little
bit)”. Showing signs of respect to your
co-workers, without regard to rank or
title, can go a long way to smoothing out
the many bumps and bruises that arise in
the modern workforce. For managers, this
means that they need to enforce policies
evenly and avoid playing favorites — perceived favoritism is often a root cause of
harassment and discrimination claims.
When a mistake is made, the manager
must own the mistake and apologize
· Everybody’s friends until they’re not
– When you work with someone every
day, real friendships can develop and it is
natural to fall into casual forms of communication. Although there is nothing
inherently wrong with this, as a manager
it is important to remember that off-color
jokes may look and sound very different
if that relationship sours at some point in
the future. This is especially true between
a manager and a subordinate. “I was just
joking” is a weak defense.
Ultimately, employers cannot prevent friction
in the workplace, nor is it possible to protect
against all bad actors; however, through strong
policies and effective training, these dangers
can be effectively mitigated.
1. U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission: Harassment. Available at
2. Nanette Asimov: “UC settles sex harassment suit for $1.7 million”
SFGate, April 18, 2017. Available at http://bit.ly/2tMPvbc
3. Robert Patrick: “Casey’s General Store ordered to pay former
employee $1.5M over harassment, retaliation” St. Louis Post
Dispatch, April 26, 2017. Available at http://bit.ly/2v2l Ytz
4. Lewis Kamb: “King County to settle lawsuit against sheriff, aides
for $1.35M over retaliation claims” The Seattle Times, April 11, 2017.
Available at http://bit.ly/2v2kMGw
5. Falon Fatemi: “The True Cost Of A Bad Hire–It’s More
Than You Think” Forbes.com, September 28, 2016. Available at