Wake up. You haven't done enough.
"You can't just put it in your handbook," says Joel Makee, partner at Taft, Stettinius and Hollister. "You have to have a tracking mechanism. You have to show all employees have access to it."
If you have shop or maintenance employees who don't work at a computer, and your handbook is on the company intranet, you have a problem. But more important, you need to make sure everyone understands the rules, and the best way to demonstrate that is through training.
"On a periodic basis, and we recommend every three years, you need to train on the basis of those policies and keep track of who you train," says Makee.
How you conduct the training will depend on how many employees you have, but training needs to be thorough. Dillard's department store lost a harassment case even though it had a policy and showed a 10-minute video to explain the rules. The court ruled that wasn't enough.
"Our recommendation is that you have someone come in and do some training," says Makee.
The courts love to see not only a policy but training sessions where employees are instructed on how the policies apply and are presented with hypothetical examples of what is and what isn't harassing behavior.
"It shows a real earnest attempt by the employer to get across the idea of what kind of culture you want in the business," says Makee. "You can't just put a video out in the lobby and expect the court to recognize that you've got the full package. A full package is having a policy and having sessions where they are not only described but given examples."
Once you have a proper policy with regular training in place, you need to make sure that all complaints are followed up on.
"If you publish a policy and train people, and someone violates the policy and you don't do anything to them, employees will talk," says Makee. "They know what's going on. If nothing happens, then you have another set of problems. You have to follow all the way through.
"It's all part of demonstrating you are serious about these policies. If there is a place to go and you can make your complaint, and there is a recognized procedure for handling the complaint and they talk to you about it, that is part of the employer demonstrating respect for the employee and the law."
By bringing in an outside trainer, you also gain a potential ally in the courtroom -- someone who doesn't work in the company who can describe the commitment level of the company to get employees to understand the policies.
Not everyone will be committed to the training, but under Ohio law, individuals can be held personally liable for harassment. This can be used to motivate managers not only to take the training seriously but also to abide by the policies and make sure everyone under their control is doing likewise.
"I like to say that what training and policies always provide us is a good story to tell in court," says Makee. "It's wonderful to tell about policies that people know about and get trained on. That's absolute proof of the type of culture the business is trying to create."
How to reach: Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, www.taftlaw.com or (216) 241-2838