On 10 May 2010 Massachusetts put into effect a law that establishes new definitions and procedures for responding to workplace complaints of abuse and harassment. These laws have a farther reach than do current laws referencing protected class status; they apply to anyone. The outcome can have serious implications for employers as the law gives the courts the capacity to ban perpetrators from the workplace altogether. That is a confirmed complaint from one employee can eliminate another employee from the workforce. Such outcomes not only suggest that a company is a bad place to work, they also introduce operational challenges for the company. In emergency situations, a ban can occur without warning to the employer.
This law empowers victims of abuse and bullying, moving a responsibility from the employer to individual employees who can appeal directly to the courts. Ideally, employers manage the quality of their worksettings to address problems as they arise.
Rather than endure the uncertainty inherent in the new complaint procedure, employers would be well served to take a more asserting approach to preventing and addressing abusive interactions.
- Building Civility. Many abusive interactions reflect insensitivity more than intent to harm. That is, perpetrators are often oblivious to their impact on others. In the current day and age, many people enter the workforce with poor social skills. Many long-term employees lack sensitivity to the concerns in a workplace that actively builds civility among employees will experience many fewer complaints. For an example, see CREW
- Responding Effectively to Complaints. Once an incident has occurred, the best way to avoid legal action is for an employer to respond quickly and effectively. The experience of harassment, bullying, or abuse generates intense negative emotions for those on the receiving end. An unresolved complaint generates uncertainty for other employees. Nothing good comes from delay. An effective system have clear definitions of infractions, a confidential route for receiving complaints, and a response mechanism with independence from the formal reporting structure. Establishing such a system requires thoughtful preparation and expertise, but it is certainly feasible and well worth the investment.
Prevention is the preferred route. It requires an upfront investment by companies in their values for respectful and civil workplaces. It’s worth it.
For more information on the Massachusetts law, check out this interesting blog by Denise Murphy