As a small business owner, your conduct in the workplace can result in costly litigation that, potentially, could be fatal to your business.   Once a lawsuit has been filed, you have little control over the cost; however, knowing the law may help you prevent a costly trip to the courthouse.

Harassment and sexual harassment are two forms of discrimination which have become the most discussed topics in human resources.

Harassment means to disturb, torment or pester on a persistent basis someone because of their membership in one or more protected groups.   This harassment could be verbal, physical or visual.

Verbal harassment occurs when words and sounds are directed toward other people in a way that disturbs, torments or pesters them based on their membership in a protected group.

Physical harassment includes, but is not limited to, assaults, impeding or blocking movement, or any physical interference with normal work or movement directed at an individual.  Visual harassment includes, but is not limited to, pictures, posters, calendars, cartoons, statements written on walls, and other objects that can be clearly seen.

Sexual harassment includes behavior such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature such as name-calling, suggestive comments, or lewd talk and jokes.

Sexual harassment often takes one of two forms:  Quid pro quo harassment occurs when one person is asked, forced, pressured, or influenced to provide sexual favors or acts as a term, condition, or privilege of employment or advancement; environmental sexual harassment occurs when workplace conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

There are two important steps you, as a business owner, can take to prevent harassment.   Adopt and enforce a written policy regarding harassment and train employees to identify and avoid inappropriate behaviors.  Your policy must include clearly defined behaviors that are inappropriate and must define the categories of people to be protected.  You may include other protected categories (and some states may require you to do so) such as sexual orientation and people with AIDS.  Your policy must also include a procedure for employees to file complaints and for complaint resolution.

Always seek the advice of an attorney when developing your policies and procedures to protect your employees and the future of your business.

On Monday, Annemarie comments on the never ending cycle of life in “The Cycle Of Life Continues”.