Your anti-harassment policy must include behavior outside the dealership, including after-hours gatherings. 
 -  Photo by AleksandarNakic via Getty Images

Your anti-harassment policy must include behavior outside the dealership, including after-hours gatherings.

Photo by AleksandarNakic via Getty Images

Since the #MeToo movement started, there’s been a 12% increase in sexual harassment complaints. This has sparked widespread reviews and updates of outdated policies and procedures nationwide.

If you haven’t touched your dealership’s harassment prevention policy recently, you should take action now. If a claim ever turns into a lawsuit, your best defense is to demonstrate that you exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassing behavior. Ignoring the problem or telling victims “That’s just Harvey being Harvey” is no longer an option.

Defining Harassment

Harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, or other genetic information.

When most people hear the word “harassment,” they think of sexual harassment. You might be surprised to learn that sexual harassment claims are not as prevalent as claims based on race, disabilities, or retaliation. Retaliation is when someone — usually a manager — retaliates against an employee who has filed a complaint, testified in an investigation or lawsuit, or opposed an employment practice.

“Unwelcome conduct” might include jokes, slurs, name-calling, physical assaults, threats, intimidation, ridicule, insults, or offensive objects and pictures. Practices like hazing new salespeople can easily fall into this category.

Also, be aware that workplace harassment doesn’t have to occur in the dealership. It can take place on social media, via texting, or when a group of employees goes out to a happy hour together.

As a manager or principal, the best way to protect your dealership and the victims of harassment is to nip this behavior in the bud before it escalates. This makes great business sense as well. Happy employees are more productive.

Preventing Bad Behavior

First, clearly communicate your policies and make sure employees know what behavior is acceptable and what is not. When you hire someone new, communicate your policy and examples of unacceptable behavior during orientation and follow up by training employees annually.

Provide employees with multiple avenues to report offensive behavior and let them know they can file complaints without retaliation of any kind. Their supervisor may be the offender, so an employee should be able to go to any manager they feel comfortable with. Any restrictions could convince an employee to report the behavior to a lawyer or to the EEOC instead.

When an employee does file a complaint, take steps to protect their confidentiality. Make sure your managers know that retaliation against any employee who files a complaint against them is considered unlawful harassment.

Take complaints seriously. Seventy percent of women who experience sexual harassment never report it because they fear being blamed or social or professional retaliation. Sadly, these fears are well-founded, but the #MeToo movement is shifting the balance.

On the flip side, let’s not forget about due process. If an employee comes forward and reports that a manager showed them a text of a nude selfie, should you immediately fire that manager? Absolutely not. Act quickly and learn all the facts before taking action. It’s possible the employee and manager had an affair that turned sour, and it’s the complaining employee who’s in the wrong.

Clearly, you can’t rely on outdated handbook policies to prevent workplace harassment. Clear, consistent communication and a commitment to holding employees and managers accountable is required.

Dave Druzynski is chief people officer at Auto/Mate Dealership Systems. Email him at [email protected].