Are sexual harassment policies unnecessary for small businesses?

In Business Organizations by Coolidge Wall

There are many advantages to operating a small business as opposed to a large corporation. Smaller businesses can be more agile and quick to respond to consumer needs, they often have a strong knowledge of local markets and it can be easier to take ownership over certain aspects of a product of business when there are fewer people to pass the buck.

When it comes to maintaining relationships with employees, small businesses can also come out ahead. With fewer employees, small companies can find it easier to foster honest, trustworthy and personal relationships between employees and with the employer. However, it is important that employers not take this ease of relationship for granted. For instance, it will still be wise to establish firm and formal policies for workplace conduct.

According to a recent poll, about two-thirds of small employers stated that they did not have any sexual harassment or training in place. Most of these employers said that such policies and procedures were simply unnecessary because of how few employees they had.

Unfortunately, the lack of workplace harassment policies can ultimately do much more harm than good.

In the event that an employee is being sexually harassed at a small business without a harassment policy in place, that person can feel trapped and alone. He or she may not feel comfortable reporting violations from a co-worker they know quite well, and a victim of harassment may not have the confidence that anything reported will be kept confidential and/or be dealt with professionally. That person may not know that they have the right to work in an environment free from harassment and that they cannot be fired for reporting such misconduct.

This can all take a serious toll on employees and workplace morale, which can certainly influence a business’ performance in the marketplace.

With all this in mind, we urge small business owners across Ohio to be sure they have in place an official policy on workplace harassment. Whether you have 15 or 15,000 employees, an employer must take seriously the responsibility to protect workers and their rights. Legal guidance from an experienced attorney can help you create a policy that is enforceable and appropriate for your specific needs.

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