Companies in New York can take steps to protect themselves against harassment suits by strengthening their anti-harassment policies in a number of ways. For example, a policy should clearly state that reports can be made not just by people who are harassed but by those who witness harassment as well. Furthermore, employees should understand that work harassment is not always sexual in nature but could also be based on factors such as a person's religion, race and national origin.
If a supervisor is a person's only contact for reporting harassment and that supervisor is doing the harassing, a victim has nowhere to turn. Therefore, employers should provide multiple options for reporting and might consider a third-party reporting system. Employees should understand what actions constitute harassment and from whom. For example, harassment may happen at offsite company events, and it may involve not just employees but customers, suppliers and vendors. Harassment may also occur via channels such as social media and email.
Complainants and witnesses should be protected against retaliation regardless of the legal merit of the allegation. Employers should understand that the scope of retaliation includes actions such as reassignment. Finally, if harassment has occurred, action must be taken even when the behavior is not technically illegal.
Employers who are concerned about harassment, including sexual harassment, might want to talk to an attorney to make sure they understand their rights and obligations in training employees and in investigating harassment. An attorney may also assist an employer in understanding what actions might constitute harassment or retaliation. If a case of workplace harassment does occur, the employer could consult the attorney about how to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair manner and that all parties are protected throughout the process and, if necessary, in the aftermath.