Cultivating a respectful workplace is essential for any forward-thinking employer. But is it enough? Not always.
More often than not, treating employees with respect comports with the myriad of legal requirements employers must follow. Every now and then, though, a situation arises where the seemingly respectful way to go is not necessarily the legal way to go.
Say an employee comes to her manager in confidence and shares that a co-worker said or did something sexually inappropriate. She tells the manager she does not want anyone to know and is confident she can handle the situation. She merely needed to vent. One could argue that the respectful approach would be for the manager to defer to the employee and maintain the confidence. But one would be wrong. The manager actually has an affirmative legal duty to report the potential harassment up the chain of command, most likely to Human Resources.
According to the courts, the manager is the employer in the eyes of the law. Therefore, the courts will treat this scenario as if the employer knew about potential harassment but did nothing to stop it. I’ve seen this exact scenario lead to major liability for the employer.
So what’s the answer?
Train all managerial and supervisory employees on how to appropriately respond to harassment in the workplace. Anything short of this could land you in legal hot water.