Thomas Cluderay is general counsel at Yellowstone Forever, the nonprofit education and fundraising partner for Yellowstone National Park.
Protecting staff from sexual harassment and other workplace bullying starts with prevention, but if reports arise, you need to be prepared to respond with a thorough and fair investigation.
Imagine you have a volunteer leader who is known to make occasional off-color remarks to other members or your staff. This behavior may have been accepted in the past, but today, it would come back to haunt you if you were ever accused of fostering a culture that tolerates inappropriate conduct.
Avoiding liability for sexual harassment or other forms of workplace bullying requires both prevention and appropriate response if an allegation arises.
Prevention starts with setting the right tone from the top. Board and staff leaders must clearly state that harassment, discrimination, and retaliation will not be tolerated. A code of conduct for the organization is one concrete expression of this commitment, but it should be emphasized regularly in staff and volunteer orientations and in communications from senior staff clearly explaining expected behavior and consequences for violations.
Periodic staff and volunteer training will reinforce the message. Bear in mind that protections against harassment apply not only to full- and part-time employees but also to interns and volunteers.
When responding to a specific report of harassment, take these steps:
Other considerations may include notifying the insurer of potential claims and possibly notifying law enforcement. Finally, be consistent: Don’t ignore inappropriate behavior by one person and punish another.