Avoid Sexual Harassment Lawsuits & Complaints
As an employer, you have a responsibility to maintain a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. This is your legal obligation, but it also makes good business sense. If you allow sexual harassment to flourish in your workplace, you will pay a high price in terms of poor employee morale, low productivity, and lawsuits.
Did you know. anywhere between 40-70% of women and 10-20% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace? (Actually, according to the EEOC, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has more than tripled in recent years).
Did you know. there no employer too small to be exempt from sexual harassment or sexual discrimination law, and that liability can apply to a supervisor or owner personally and to the business?
Related white paper: Sexual Harassment
What Is Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Any conduct of a sexual nature that makes an employee uncomfortable has the potential to be sexual harassment.
Given this broad definition, it is not surprising that sexual harassment comes in many forms. The following are all examples of sexual harassment:
- A supervisor implies to an employee that the employee must sleep with him to keep a job.
- A sales clerk makes demeaning comments about female customers to his coworkers.
- An office manager in a law firm is made uncomfortable by lawyers who regularly tell sexually explicit jokes.
- A cashier at a store pinches and fondles a coworker against her will.
- A secretary's coworkers belittle her and refer to her by sexist or demeaning terms.
- Several employees post sexually explicit jokes on an office intranet bulletin board.
- An employee sends emails to coworkers that contain sexually explicit language and jokes.
The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, manager, or coworker. An employer may even be liable for harassment by a nonemployee (such as a vendor or customer), depending on the circumstances.
Anyone Can Be Sexually Harassed
Sexual harassment is a gender-neutral offense, at least in theory: Men can sexually harass women, and women can sexually harass men. However, statistics show that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment claims and charges are brought by women claiming that they were sexually harassed by men.
People of the same sex can also sexually harass each other, as long as the harassment is of a heterosexual nature. For example, if a man's coworkers constantly bombard him with sexually explicit photos of women and sexually explicit jokes, and if this makes him uncomfortable because he is married, this behavior can constitute sexual harassment.
Strategies for Prevention
Well, any sexual harassment in your workplace-whether a complaint is filed or not-directly affects your business. If you allow sexual harassment to flourish in your workplace, you will pay a high price in terms of poor employee morale, low productivity, and large lawsuits.
Yes-you can be sued even if you don't do anything. Actually, you can be sued because you don't do anything. This is a serious issue in every workplace, so take some time to read up on the laws even if you've read them before. Sexual harassment claims continue to change-protect your employees and your business! Here are some ways to help you:
- Adopt a clear sexual harassment policy. In your employee handbook, you should have an entire policy devoted to sexual harassment. That policy should:
- define sexual harassment,
- state in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate sexual harassment,
- state that you will discipline or fire any wrongdoers,
- set out a clear procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints,
- state that you will investigate fully any complaint that you receive and
- state that you will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who complains about sexual harassment.
- Train employees. Conduct training sessions for employees. These sessions should teach employees what sexual harassment is, explain that employees have a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment and review your complaint procedure and encourage employees to use it.
- Train supervisors and managers. At least once every two years, and within 6 months of becoming a supervisor or manager, make sure you comply with California law and educate the managers and supervisors about sexual harassment and explain how to deal with complaints. California's law applies only to employers that have at least 50 employees and requires supervisors receive two hours of interactive sexual harassment training every two years, starting in January 2006. You should also train about other types of discrimination such as disability, race, religion, national origin, etc.
- Monitor your workplace. Get out among your employees periodically. Talk to them about the work environment. Ask for their input. Look around the workplace itself. Do you see any offensive posters or notes? Talk to your supervisors and managers about what is going on. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Take all complaints seriously. If someone complains about sexual harassment, act immediately to investigate the complaint. If the complaint turns out to be valid, your response should be swift and effective.
Did you know
Outline of Sexual Harassment Training Course:
- Quiz - knowledge of the law
- Discussion of participants' experiences
- Video presentation, with discussion of topics
- Summary and review of 16 page booklet "How to Recognize and Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace".
- Review of the Company's policy on Sexual Harassment and how supervisors and managers should deal with complaints
- Quiz and review of quiz answers
- Certificates of Completion.
The video is available for purchase if the company wishes to repeat training for newly hired or promoted supervisors, as is a cd with a comprehensive power point presentation (30 slides with Leader's Guide), and quantities of the 16 page booklet are available (in English and Spanish).