Today's Veterinary Business

FEB 2018

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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59 February/March 2018 • TODAYSVETERINARYBUSINESS.COM ately address complaints. However, this does not mean that managers should assume the accused is guilty before an investi- gation has even started. Nor should assumptions be made based on gender — for example, assuming that men are the harassers and women are the victims. These approaches, in fact, are among the worst ways to respond. In today's emotionally heated environment of almost daily news reports of sexual harassment, you must be fair to all parties and never punish a person based solely on an accusation or be- cause of preconceived gender roles. Step one is to take every complaint seriously and not rush to judgment. After you receive a complaint, promptly follow up and investigate thoroughly. Remember that anyone doing the investigat- ing must remain fair and objective. Listen carefully to the complainant and assure the employee that re- taliation for the complaint will not be permitted. Tell the complainant that if retaliation occurs or if harass- ment continues, you need to know about it right away and will address the behavior. Document all discussions care- fully, including the dates, times and witnesses to relevant events. When you inform the accused of the com- plaint, assure him or her that a fair and impartial investigation will take place and that guilt is not assumed. Also, communicate regularly with the parties so they don't feel ignored and explain that a rushed investigation serves no one well. Once you've collected as much information as possible, use dis- cernment in making the best deci- sion you can about the complaint. Consult with an attorney to make sure you are looking at the situa- tion appropriately. If the attorney has concerns about the investiga- tion or the conclusions, take a good second look. You can move forward once the attorney supports your decision and reasoning. Document all follow-up steps — from training to discipline — and keep the case files separate from regular personnel files. Here's what the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commis- sion says about sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following: • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a non-employee. • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim. • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome. It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available. When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis. Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains. It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding or litigation under Title VII. Kellie Olah is a human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors Inc. Always Be Aware Managers would be well-served to routinely monitor interaction among co-workers rather than wait for a complaint to be filed. Doing this might prevent less serious behaviors from expanding into full-blown misconduct. Keep an open-door policy as well so an employee feels safe sharing problems. If these conversations alert you to a sexual harassment situa- tion — or even if you hear workplace rumors — they must be investigated. Here are three additional steps to take: • Review your employment practices liability insurance policy to see if legal costs as- sociated with harassment are included. Determine if you need more coverage. • Remain alert to sexual ha- rassment issues and related legal cases, including those happening in other pro- fessions. • Each year, review your sexual harassment policies and procedures, adjust them as needed, and inform all em- ployees about the changes. Bad P.R. Finally, what will your practice do if a team member joins the #MeToo movement and uses social media to out your practice or an employee? Don't wait for this possibility to be- come a reality. Instead, be proactive and develop a plan to address the situation if someone connected with your practice goes public with a complaint. Address both the legal and public relations concerns and get input from your attorney and other relevant professionals. Is your practice prepared? Even if your hospital never gets entan- gled in the #MeToo movement, ignoring it is a problem. Instead, acknowledge the campaign and explicitly tell your employees that you agree with the fight against sexism both in the workplace and away from it. Work with your man- agers so they are prepared to foster an environment in which everyone can be safe from harassment. Train and support your managers so they know how to handle a situa- tion in which they personally observe inappropriate behaviors. Empower your team to handle harassment claims by providing them with all the policies, procedures and resources they might need, and be prepared to back them up all the way. FACTS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT When you inform the accused of the complaint, assure him or her that a fair and impartial investigation will take place and that guilt is not assumed.

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