Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of workplace harassment complaints had steadily risen over five years. Employees now have a greater understanding of what is illegal conduct and more determination to stand up for themselves when their legal rights are being violated. Even if a company has strict workplace policies, it may not be able to prevent every instance of harassment. However, your business must act when you learn about allegations of harassment or another potential problem with your workplace culture.
The turbocharged post-pandemic economy has forced companies to compete intensely for workers. Perhaps more so than ever, employees are in the driver’s seat because they have far more options. Workers who decide they want to change jobs may have multiple options to choose from within a matter of days or weeks. Companies simply cannot afford to allow a corporate environment that mistreats employees or even fosters the perception that this happens. Not only will it potentially cause companies to lose the affected employee, but the atmosphere could also cause others to leave.
Harassment Affects Morale and Productivity
Your work environment is the product of different individual interactions and situations. When an employee feels victimized by harassment, it is more than just their morale at stake. They may speak with other employees about their situation. They could have friends in the workplace who are also impacted by how they feel their coworker is being treated. Harassment instills a general belief that the workplace culture is both unfair and abusive.
The result is that ignoring harassment will affect both morale and productivity. Employees are less motivated when they do not feel they are in a fair workplace that treats people according to the law and societal mores. Not only are they unlikely to feel empowered to do their jobs, but they will also probably care far less about their jobs if they believe they are being treated illegally. Their actions may revolve around their survival and dealing with their situation, rather than focusing on their jobs.
Harassment Causes High Employee Turnover
Beyond that, your company could end up with high turnover as workers look to exit an environment they feel is hostile. When your company earns a bad reputation among employees, you will also earn less loyalty. High turnover will affect your company in several ways. The most immediate way is the cost you’ll incur in replacing and training the employees who leave. One study found it costs six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace someone who leaves. Employee turnover leads to a less trained and less motivated workforce. You lose institutional knowledge and leaders in the workplace.
In addition to economic costs, high turnover will also threaten your long-term survival and viability as a business. Your company will not be viewed as a place where workers want to stay and build their careers. Even if you can recruit employees, you will struggle to retain them. Prospective employees will wonder why the person before them left, and there are only so many times you can answer that question before word gets out about what’s happening at your company.
Word Can Get Out to Your Customers and Prospective Employees
Reports about an environment where there is alleged harassment that management does not address will also get out to potential employees and customers. More so than ever, customers are looking to do business with a company they feel is responsible and “does things right.” Customers of all types—individuals and organizations alike—are scrutinizing corporate governance and giving internal scores to the companies they work with, including suppliers. They have their interests and values to look after, and they can pull their business in a heartbeat if they think a vendor or supplier has a poor or toxic workplace culture. Your business could also get a poor reputation in your community if word gets out that it has a dangerous environment.
Potential employees will likely ask critical questions about the working environment. Both the internet and word of mouth allow them to know more about what happens at a prospective employer. All it takes is one bad example of unaddressed harassment that gets out into the public for your company to earn a bad reputation. In the business world, your reputation is your lifeblood, and you cannot afford to have it sullied.
Early Action Can Help You Get in Front of a Situation
With all this being said, you can nip certain situations in the bud when you take early action. There is a chance that you can work with the employee raising issues to resolve the problem, doing what is necessary to investigate what happened, and take whatever action is required (if any). When workplace harassment allegations are allowed to fester through inaction, chances are good that the situation will turn into costly and damaging litigation. Early action can help protect your company from a legal, business, and reputational perspective. Even if you cannot resolve the situation, you could at least show the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a court that you tried to do something if a claim is made and/or an employment lawsuit goes to litigation.
Harassment allegations are understandably a big distraction that diverts resources from where you need them. While these claims must be dealt with, doing so will impose economic costs. Therefore, you must be proactive about dealing with harassment issues. Make sure your business has strong anti-harassment policies and procedures, and that you follow them at all times. An experienced attorney can help your company both get on the right footing and deal with issues as they arise. You can take control before workplace discrimination and harassment causes your company to suffer serious consequences across the board.