by Scott Tackett

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that, in 2015, several thousand cases of illegal discrimination were settled for more than $46 million dollars.

Based on this staggering number, providing a workplace free from harassment and discrimination is no longer simply the right thing to do, but something that is imperative for our businesses.

If you are an owner or executive and have not recently trained your managers and employees on the legal aspects of workplace harassment and discrimination, you are endangering not only your employees, but your business and your reputation. This is a critical managerial and leadership responsibility that must be carried out. Failing to ensure a culture that is free from harassment and discrimination may also be putting your personal liability at risk.

Beyond the potential legal issues, I believe we have both a business case and a moral responsibility to ensure a safe working environment for every employee in our companies. I am not speaking about safe from an OSHA perspective, although that is a given, but safe from the view that each employee should feel comfortable coming to work and being able to perform in their respective positions without fear of mistreatment, disrespect, or humiliation.

Our workforces are growing in diversity every day. Ensuring an environment free from harassment and discrimination, and holding everyone accountable through effective awareness training, can go a long way toward creating an engaged workforce. And an engaged workforce contributes to increased sales, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits, which are ROIs I’m sure we are all interested in seeing.

So how do we get started? If we are going to provide a workplace that is free from harassment, there are three very important steps to be taken.

Step One: Address the legal aspects through initial training, but don’t stop there. Training needs to be ongoing, on at least a yearly basis. Depending on your state, sexual harassment prevention training may even be required by law for your management staff, and in some cases, for all employees.

Step Two: Create a culture of understanding and awareness. Outline conduct and behaviors that are unacceptable and illegal, along with those that could be perceived as hurtful and disrespectful to others.

Step Three: Hold all employees accountable, without exception. Commit to working together, and ensure that everyone in the organization is held to the belief that all employees should recognize and accept the differences/diversity among us.

Harassment and discrimination harms us all. In my view, the most important part of a company’s corporate values is to ensure all employees are treated with respect and dignity. Any employee, regardless of position or title, who engages in, condones, or fails to report any type of harassment or inappropriate behavior should be dealt with accordingly. Not only is this the right thing to do, but a single violation of federal or state laws associated with illegal discrimination can destroy a business.

Scott Tackett is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. He is considered the leading expert in restoration and cleaning for Human Resource Development and Organizational Leadership with over 30 years of experience. Through Violand, Tackett works with companies to develop their people and profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call (800)360-3513.