Why You Should Be Concerned About Workplace Harassment
By Betty S.W. Graumlich and Lee Ann Anderson
Workplace harassment happens. And as a business owner with employees, you face potential liability under federal and state law when it occurs in your workplace in any of its forms.
According to the latest statistics by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), more than 50,000 charges of sexual harassment were filed between 2002 and 2005.
More importantly, it is not just sexual harassment charges that you need to worry about. Your employees are capable of creating a hostile work environment based on sex, race, disability, national origin or religion — unless you set the right tone and consistently condemn any form of harassment.
Workplace Harassment Cases Are on the Rise
Race and national origin harassment charges are on the rise, and the EEOC is taking those charges seriously.
In 2004, the EEOC sued 30 employers for race harassment and more than 20 employers for national origin harassment.
Two Cases of Harassment on the Construction Site
In one case involving harassment in the construction industry, the EEOC brought suit against a company because its Mexican construction workers were subjected to vile discriminatory language on a daily basis — including the constant use of profanity combined with derogatory names for their ethnicity.
Not only that, the workers were prohibited from using the cleaner restrooms on the ground floor and from using the elevators to carry heavy loads. They also had to bring their own drinking water to the site because they were prohibited from getting water from the supervisor’s trailer.
The case was resolved through a consent decree in which the employer was required to pay a total of $600,000 to 10 claimants and $150,000 to other workers of Mexican national origin who had previously worked on the project and were subjected to harassment or retaliation.
In another case, the EEOC obtained $100,000 for a truck driver/crane operator whose parents were from Puerto Rico and who was regularly called derogatory names because of his ethnicity.
Despite complaints to the general manager, the company did nothing to investigate or remedy the complaints until the EEOC conducted an onsite investigation of the employee’s discrimination charge.
Bad for Business
Fines in workplace harassment cases like these are only part of the costs involved. The true cost is incalculable.
Workplace harassment creates disruption in the workplace, lowers morale and productivity, causes emotional injury that leads to greater absenteeism and higher health-care costs and results in a substantial loss of management time in investigating and handling harassment complaints and defending EEOC charges and lawsuits.
In addition, harassment charges create negative publicity for the business. In short, workplace harassment is costly business.
To read more about harassment, go online to the “Human Resources Management Tools” section of www.nahb.org/biztools on the members section of the NAHB Web site.
For seven tips on heading off inappropriate workplace behavior that can ruin you and your business and how to institute workplace policies and practices that can improve morale and save significant costs, click here (available to NAHB members only).
Betty S.W. Graumlich is counsel in the Richmond, Va. office of Reed Smith LLP, an international law firm that represents companies in multi-jurisdictional litigation and other high-stakes disputes, strategic and cross-border transactions and crucial regulatory matters . Lee Ann Anderson is a senior associate in the Richmond office. Both attorneys specialize in labor and employment law. For more information, e-mail Graumlich, or call her at 804-344-3456; or e-mail Anderson, or call her at 804-344-3441.
NAHB Has More Than 250 Resources to Help You Run Your Business More Profitably
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NAHB Technology Solutions Directory Now Online
NAHB’s Technology Solutions Directory — an easy-to-use directory that enables builders, remodelers, contractors and other industry professionals to find information on software and IT solutions and services for their businesses — is now online. The directory is sponsored by the Business Management & Information Technology Committee.
Software and technology solutions providers interested in being listed can sign up for:
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For more information, e-mail Wil Heslop at NAHB.
The Technology Solutions Directory is solely for educational and informational purposes. Nothing in the directory should be construed as policy, an endorsement, warranty or guaranty by the National Association of Home Builders of the listed software, IT service or the software/IT vendor. The National Association of Home Builders expressly disclaims any responsibility for any damages arising from the use, application or reliance on any information contained in this directory.