Policy can address harassment problems

It is best to have a written sexual harassment policy for your health care facility, even though that creates an obligation to enforce it, says Jeffrey M. Tanenbaum, JD, an attorney with Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff, Tichy and Mathiason in San Francisco. He provides these tips for creating a policy and addressing sexual harassment:

1. Have a zero-tolerance policy.

It may be hard to define sexual harassment, but make clear that you will tolerate absolutely none.

2. Describe prohibited harassment.

Provide examples of what can constitute harassment, but make it clear that harassment can take many forms not specifically described in your policy.

3. Explain that employees can report harassment without fear of retaliation — and make that possible.

Establish a system in which the employee does not have to confront the harasser. Have several routes open to employees so that they can report the problem to another person if uncomfortable with the first option.

4. Explain what the employer will do in response.

A prompt investigation should be promised, along with any appropriate follow-up.

5. When interviewing the complainant, have two managers present.

The second person acts as an additional witness and also helps avoid charges that the interviewer harassed the complainant.

6. When taking action against a harasser, suspensions must be without pay.

A suspension with pay is known as a vacation. The only exception is when you are suspending the employee while you investigate the complaint, not as punishment once you decide the complaint is legitimate.

7. If transferring an employee in response to sexual harassment, transfer the harasser.

Sometimes the harassment victim will prefer being transferred, and that is acceptable. But otherwise, make sure you transfer the person who has done something wrong. Transferring the victim against his or her wishes may be seen as retaliation for making the charge.