Today's Veterinary Business

FEB 2019

Today’s Veterinary Business provides information and resources designed to help veterinarians and office management improve the financial performance of their practices, allowing them to increase the level of patient care and client service.

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53 February/March 2019 • TODAYSVETERINARYBUSINESS.COM When employee harassment occurs, and all the parties work at your practice, the situation can be challenging, but hopefully you have a process in place to deal with it. But what if the person accused of harassing one of your employ- ees doesn't work at the practice? Perhaps the person is the janitor at the building where your practice is housed, a pharmaceutical salesper- son or a landscaper. The accused could be an investor, a shareholder or a client. The harassment could happen in person, in writing or on the phone, by email or even through social media. So, what do you do? Know the Law First, your practice team needs a solid foundation on which to form third-party anti-harassment pol- icies and procedures, so educate yourself and your managers about the laws and case law. At the core of relevant case law is Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp., the case in which the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, yes, employers can be held liable when a third party en- gages in workplace harassment. In this landmark case, the plaintiff asked her employer for help when an independent sales representative who visited the company repeatedly subjected her to harassment, both sexual and racial. She did not think her company protected her, and she ultimately resigned. She then filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Com- mission, stating that the workplace environment was hostile and that the reporting system didn't work. Educating your management team about this case is crucial to set the stage for how seriously such behaviors are taken in federal courts. Also, be knowledgeable about and share your state's laws, because specifics do vary. Then, after making sure your managers are clear about the laws, it's important to discuss what's needed in your practice to create appropriate policies, procedures and channels of communication so that your employees, unlike the plaintiff in the case described above, can be promptly heard and remedies readily applied. Include expectations of third-party vendors in your em- ployee handbook, and let team members know how to immediate- ly inform you about any vendor ha- rassment. Be crystal clear that you have zero tolerance for harassment. Review the guidelines with every new employee and revisit them with all employees annually. Choosing Third-Party Vendors Clearly communicate your expec- tations to vendors when you select them, explaining that appropriate behavior is required in your practice. You might want to schedule an ori- entation meeting when you choose a vendor, whether a salesperson from a drug company, someone who services office equipment or a contractor. Professionally communi- cated expectations are more likely to be met. Although these conver- sations might feel awkward initially, companies with similar philosophies will respect your boundaries. If a third-party company is not com- fortable with a professional discus- sion about employee harassment, it's not one you would want to continue to do business with. When a Complaint is Lodged Prompt responses are crucial in maintaining a professional work- place where employees are re- spected. If a harassment case goes to court, your speed of response could become an important factor. Failing to act immediately could be considered a lack of care and potentially contribute to a decision that your practice has an unsafe work environment. Harassment in the workplace lowers morale, reduces productivity and otherwise upsets employees. It can take the form of unwanted flirtation, forced touching or inappropriate jokes about an employee's religion, race or gender. It could involve an unwillingness of someone to work with, for example, a sight-impaired employee. Harassment also can occur when someone inappropriately contacts an employee outside of work hours. Any behavior that threatens another person, humiliates him or her, or otherwise victimizes a person can be consid- ered harassment. Leadership H.R. HUDDLE By Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD How to respond to third-party harassment You have a responsibility to respond quickly and firmly to situations involving outside predators. It all starts with the employee handbook.

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