Preventing Sexual Harassment
Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and secure workplace, and that includes preventing sexual harassment. It’s not only good for your employees, it’s good for you because knowing what sexual harassment is and having policies in place for preventing and dealing with it will save you a lot of headaches and costly lawsuits. Sexual harassment is prosecuted under the same federal laws used to prosecute employers for race and religious discrimination, so it's important for employers to take it just as seriously as other forms of discrimination.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive workplace. Whether something is offensive is judged by asking whether a reasonable person should have to endure the conduct in question.
Sexual harassment can take many forms, here are some common examples:
- A male employee making derogatory comments about the length of a female coworker’s skirts
- Employees hanging out in common areas telling sexually explicit jokes
- One employee sending another employee an email that uses suggestive or explicit language
- A boss refering to his secretary in a sexist and demeaning way.
- A supervisor implying that to get a raise, a coworker needs to sleep with him
- One worker gropeing another coworker
Who Can Experience Sexual Harassment?
There is a common misconception that only women can be sexually harassed by men. To the contrary, sexual harassment is gender-neutral and women can just as easily sexually harass men. In practice, however, it is most common for women to file sexual harassment complaints against men.
As for whether a gender can sexually harass someone of the same gender, it has been established that one gender can sexually harass the same gender if it is in a heterosexual way. This can occur, for example, by men sharing sexually explicit jokes which make another male coworker uncomfortable. It is still an open question, however, whether a person can successfully sue for homosexual harassment.
How to Prevent Sexual Harassment?
Fortunately, preventing sexual harassment and limiting your liability as an employer is relatively straight forward and easy:
- Create a clear, concise sexual harassment policy : make sure you have a sexual harassment policy in place which defines sexual harassment, explicitly sets forth that sexual harassment is not tolerated, explains the consequences and sets forth a process for reporting and investigating complaints.
- Train your employees about sexual harassment : it is recommended that your employees receive sexual harassment training once per year, focusing on common situations that some employees might not consider to be sexual harassment, but are.
- Monitor the workplace : make it a regular practice to talk to your employees and ask them about their working environment to make sure it stays harassment free.
- Encourage employees to come forward : make it clear to your employees that anything they tell you will be kept confidential and will not in any way affect their career opportunities.
- Take complaints seriously and investigate : take all complaints seriously and perform a thorough investigation. If the complaint has any basis, remedy the situation immediately.
Do I Need to Train My Employees About Sexual Harassment?
Some states make it mandatory that certain employers conduct sexual harassment training. For example, in California, employers that have at least fifty employees are required to make their supervisors undergo sexual harassment training every two years. Many states don’t require it, but strongly encourage employers to provide sexual harassment training.
Hiring a Lawyer to Help with a Sexual Harassment Claim
Allegations of sexual harassment can have a lasting impact on your small business and should never be taken lightly. Contact an employment attorney in your state today to help you with the investigation and the merits of any potential case.