to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #17 — CONSIDERING THE COST OF HARASSMENT - 3
People don't stick around once they've filed a harassment complaint; they move to another workplace. They usually quit because management refused to do anything, or didn't do enough. Sadly, complainants are often so traumatized by their harassment, that they experience a psychological barrier to finding another job. Add to this the problem of explaining why they left their last job. "The boss sexually harassed me" or "I couldn't endure the poisoned environment that resulted from my colour of skin " or "I've filed a complaint with Human Rights" tends not to turn up on resumes.
If, during a human rights inquiry, tribunal or court case for wrongful dismissal, the company is found liable, the complainant will be asking for lost wages during the time he was out of a job. If there are extenuating circumstances, the mediator, adjudicator or judge will not award lost wages, but in all other cases, they will. Former employees are expected to look for new employment, but if they don't secure it immediately, the official dealing with their case will consider such criteria as the length of their employment, their age, the availability of similar jobs, and their state of mind as a result of the harassment they endured. I find that most adjudicators are conservative, awarding relatively small lost-wage settlements. Even so, it can cost the employer thousands of dollars - anywhere from four to twelve months of a salary, or more. Since many wrongful dismissal cases involve supervisors and managers, who usually make higher earnings, that adds up.
This is about risk management. It is simply far less costly to deal in-house with staff, than it will ever be to resolve a formal human rights complaint or wrongful dismissal court case. Yet sadly, most organizations don't adopt preventative measures; they wait until a crisis arises.
1) Consider all the costs - as it's part of the equation. Your hard costs include the lawyers, awards and lost wages. If you think about this ahead of time, it might make it easier for you to consider how much you'll pay up front.
2) Try to understand a person who is reluctant to find another job - as it might lead to better empathy. If you are found liable and realize you have to pay lost wages, try to understand that your former employee might be reluctant to get another similar job and is a bit traumatized. It might sound strange, but in fact harassment and the loss of a job (quitting or being fired) may only be truly understood after it happens to us.
3) What will you say about a former employee once she is gone? This may form part of a settlement and if it doesn't you may want to bring it up. Sometimes you lose really good people who you wish had stayed around. Despite the animosity of a case, you may realize this person didn't deserve what she went through. Establish what you will say if a reference is needed.