Five Things Not To Do When Facing Workplace Harassment or Discrimination

April 1, 2015 – In The News
Main Street

Christina Stoneburner was quoted in the Main Street article "Five Things Not To Do When Facing Workplace Harassment or Discrimination." While the full text can be found in the April 1, 2015, issue, a synopsis is noted below.

Harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace are rarely clear cut, and while there are definite steps to put an end to problems, there are often no clear winners when lawsuits are filed.

According to Christina Stoneburner, once an issue arises, the biggest mistake people make is not reporting it.

“The longer you wait, the greater the chances the harassment will increase in intensity. Also, it can make someone at least initially question, ‘If this was happening for this long, why haven’t you brought it forward before now?’” she said.

The more time that passes after an incident, the more positive interactions you’re likely to have with those responsible for the harassment.

“What sometimes happens is the employee hasn’t complained, but they have ongoing cordial communication with the alleged harasser. So when HR goes to review things, the only thing they are seeing is emails that say, “Thank you so much for your support,” or “I really appreciated your help with this project,” Stoneburner said.

“It may be because they are trying to ease a situation, but what it looks like to the employer is, “You’ve sat on this for nine months and in the interim you’ve had nothing but positive interactions with this person, so why would we believe there’s an issue?’”

Employees also need to be sure not to hamstring the investigation.

“Some people come forward and say, ‘I have been harassed,’ but then they don’t provide any proof,” Stoneburner said.

“People often don’t want to get their friends and co-workers drug in for questioning,” she said. “They don’t want the entire office thinking of them differently after details are revealed.”

It is essential, however, that every ounce of documentation and every detail be provided when presenting a case to HR.

“If someone made one comment about your religion, that’s a lot different than if they made 10 comments in the last month,” Stoneburner said. “Hiding details on the extent of the harassment prevents your employer from deciding on the proper course of action.”

“If you truly want things to end, you would disclose everything right upfront so the investigation could be processed and everyone could move on,” she said.

Stoneburner also cautions that employees need to be reasonable with their expectations for the outcome of the investigation.

“People make mistakes,” she said. “For someone to get fired, that’s a drastic remedy. Assuming the incident wasn’t egregious or it hasn’t been ongoing, then there is a whole range of disciplinary action that might occur. The person may get a written warning, they may be transferred or they may be temporarily suspended.”

“Employers have a lot of tools for dealing with things,” Stoneburner said. “You can’t get too married to the concept that ‘Well this has to happen or I’m never going to be happy.’ When all is said and done, you have to ask yourself, ‘Did the harassment stop?’ and if the answer is yes, then your employer did the right thing.”