Workplace harassment is far more than annoying; it can be illegal and costly. A small business owner who wants to optimize their chances for success should learn how to prevent disturbing behavior before it harms their company, reputation and future.

 
Take the First Step in Preventing Workplace Harassment
 
Know what workplace harassment encompasses. To minimize your chances of a criminal or civil harassment lawsuit, read the Fair Employment Law to be clear on exactly what to look for. 
 
 
Does a manager raise their voice to all your older employees? Is there a male employee who makes female employees feel uncomfortable whenever they work together? Do you have an employee that nobody wants to work with? These signs often indicate that there’s harassment going on. Discover what’s behind this repeated behavior, especially if it might be symptomatic of race or sex-based discrimination. An experienced sexual assault attorney says seemingly minor instances of sexual harassment can escalate quickly, sometimes resulting in a serious lawsuit. Small business environments are usually very personal, so you’ll need to be extra vigilant in your persecution of harassment to avoid serious interpersonal conflicts. 
 
Start Every Employee on the Right Foot
 
From your first interview with a prospective employee, mention the standards of conduct that are expected. Don’t assume an individual knows what you require—outline your expectations and make it clear that not meeting these will result in disciplinary action.
 
Include a chapter on conduct behavior in your employee handbook. Outline the procedures when policies are violated. Provide links to online videos addressing the issue of bullies in the workplace. To help employees understand why this is an important job-related issue, explain how harassing conduct can hurt the company. 
 
Ask the Right Questions Often
 
Don’t assume that harassment isn’t present simply because you don’t see it. Abusers are often clever at masking abusive behavior. An anonymous survey may be the quickest way to expose the problem. Make survey sheets available in the break room. Ask questions such as, “Do you feel that harassment is a problem in this company? If so, explain.” Provide a suggestion box where employees can privately deposit their completed survey sheets.
 
Set the Example for Respectful Relationships
 
Gandhi is often quoted as saying, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Be a role model. Even if you don’t personally respect a worker, client, or supplier, you can act professionally and show them respect. Harassment can adversely affect the company’s bottom line and reputation. An environment with aggressive behavior, repeated humiliation, or offensive remarks will result in low employee morale, decreased productivity, and high employee turnover. If litigation is initiated because of harassment, the expense in time and money can mean the financial ruin of a small business.
 
Small business owners would do well to make time to carefully examine their workplace routinely for this menacing problem in order to increase the company’s chances for success in today’s highly competitive business world.
 
Author: Emma Sturgis is a freelance writer living in Boston, MA. She writes most often on small business and education. Information used in this article was provided by a New Jersey sexual assault attorney from Clark & Clark LLC .