|Both discrimination and harassment based on or because of a person’s protected class is illegal behavior and such allegations are taken seriously. An agency Human Resource (HR) section will likely guide an agency in preventing, investigating and responding appropriately to complaints of discrimination and harassment. |
Harassment is a label that is attached to many types of complaints an employee may make. If an employee is using the word harassment, HR must carefully listen to the content of the complaint. Since harassment has a legal definition, HR and agency management should not make legal judgment by labeling the described behavior as harassment.
In the case of discrimination and harassment, prevention and response are very important. Investigate all complaints. An agency can be held liable if the agency knows or should know discriminatory or harassing behavior is occurring and the agency does not take action.
Important note: If an employee says something like, “I just want to tell you what is happening, but I don’t want you to do anything about it,” do not promise inaction or confidentiality. Tell the employee that depending on what the employee says, the agency may have a legal obligation to address the concern. Assure the employee that the information will be discussed only with those on a need-to-know basis.
It is never OK to let inappropriate behavior go unaddressed. One of the agency’s defenses against a harassment charge is to be sure the harassment and discrimination policy is clear, easily accessible and explained to the employees. Give training or review of the policy regularly so employees know their avenue for raising a complaint. An agency should take action by responding to a complaint promptly.
Locate State HR Policy 50.010.01 Discrimination and Harassment Free Workplace for more information.
An agency should promptly investigate and respond to complaints. Tools to use when investigating a complaint or providing training on discrimination and harassment are located online. The tools include: Conducting Employer Investigations; Discrimination and Harassment Free Workplace PowerPoint; and Discrimination and Harassment Free Workplace Lesson Plan.
In addition, there is an online course, DAS - CHRO - Maintaining a Harassment Free and Professional Workplace, in iLearnOregon that is available to agencies.
There are occasions when an employee will report inappropriate workplace behavior that is not illegal under the anti-discrimination statutes. Even though certain workplace behaviors may not be illegal and fall under the Discrimination and Harassment Policy, the agency should still address them. State HR Policy 50.010.03 Maintaining a Professional Workplace addresses behaviors that aren’t illegal but are inappropriate for the workplace.
Contact the DOJ Labor and Employment section for assistance at 503-947-4600.