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Protecting your small business from sexual harassment claims

If you are like many small business owners, you may be more anxious lately about the risk of sexual harassment allegations in the workplace. The explosion of news stories detailing sexual harassment in various industries across the country may have made you worried about behavior and morale among your staff. 

The close-knit atmosphere of a small business can make allegations of sexual harassment more devastating. If your employees work closely together and interact with each other regularly throughout the work week, accusations of sexual harassment can create a disruption that can affect the entire company. Any sexual misconduct can also result in financial strain if the victim takes the matter to court.

Being a resource without an HR department

Most small businesses don't have a human resources department to handle any matters of harassment, including the steps to take to prevent and deal with such behavior. This means the burden will fall on you, the owner. In light of the recent attention falling on sexual harassment in the workplace, you would be wise to consider some actions other small business owners and CEOs have taken, including:

  • Evaluate any factors that may breed hostility in your company, such as a history of dismissing complaints of harassment, retaliation.
  • Evaluate whether there are any women in positions of power.
  • Establish a clear and written policy defining sexual harassment and how your company will handle such behavior.
  • Include in your policy the steps workers can take to report sexual harassment.
  • Create roles among your staff for handling complaints of sexual harassment.
  • Take every complaint seriously by adhering to the company's policy for investigating and resolving the complaint.

Perhaps one of the most important elements is to establish an atmosphere of trust between yourself and your employees. This may happen quickly if you interact with your employees regularly, involve them in decision making and encourage them to come to you with complaints or problems. 

A law firm familiar with drafting and reviewing employment agreements, employee handbooks and sexual harassment policies can also prevent disputes before they arise. 

While these proactive steps may improve the workplace environment, you cannot always control the behavior of others on your staff. If your company is named in a sexual harassment lawsuit, having legal assistance will be a critical factor in protecting the reputation and success of your business. 

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