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Preventing Harrassment: 3 Steps Towards Preventions

Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., L.P.A.

Preventing Harrassment:  3 Steps Towards Prevention
by:  Michael J. Bogdan, Esq.
Published in the January/February 2006 Issue of The
Canton/Akron Edition of MD News Magazine

In addition to being health care providers, physicians are also employers – often employing a substantial number of employees.  As employers, it is your duty to provide employees with a work environment free from not just sexual harassment but other illegal forms of harassment as well. 

After courts began finding employers liable for certain types of harassment and awarding multi-million dollar judgments, most employers adopted some form of written policy addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.  However, your duty as an employer does not stop there. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) an employer must take all steps necessary to prevent harassment such as “affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanction, informing employees of their right to raise the issue of harassment and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.”  Clearly the EEOC expects employers to actively pursue the prevention of harassment.  Simply having an anti-harassment policy in place is not enough.

While employers adopting harassment policies has become rather commonplace, today’s harassment lawsuits often focus on the inadequacies of the written policy and the failure of the employer to educate their employees and supervisors on how to enforce the policy in an effective manner.  A sampling of the recent cases show that employers were found to be liable when harassment policies lacked alternative complaint procedures, employees were not given a copy of the policy and required to sign it, and supervisors were not instructed on how to administer harassment complaints.  These are just a few of the literally dozens of deficiencies that can exist in a sexual harassment policy.

In addition, harassment lawsuits are not limited solely to sexual harassment.  Employers must also be proactive in their handling of other forms of illegal harassment including age, race, religion, disability and ethnicity.  While sexual harassment may be the most publicized form of harassment, an employer must address the other forms of harassment with the same attention to detail paid to sexual harassment.  At times, this can be as easy as expanding your sexual harassment policy to include other forms of harassment; however, at times, additional steps may be required. 

Regardless of what policies, if any, you have in place, it is essential to protect yourself from sexual harassment lawsuits and other harassment lawsuits based upon age, race, religion, disability and ethnicity. First, ensure that you have the proper harassment policies in place. Second, review those policies and verify that they contain all required language, disclaimers, notices and procedures.  Finally, insist that your employees and supervisors receive the appropriate training to make sure they understand the policies and how they work.  These three key steps will help to protect you and your practice from needless litigation.

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.

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