Recent high-profile sexual harassment stories have been dominating the headlines in the last few weeks. The likelihood is that such exposés will continue as more victims come forward to tell their stories. And while stories that include famous celebrities and high profile politicians will be more desirable fodder for major news outlets, it’s easy to believe that local business scandals may go unnoticed.
Sexual harassment under the law
Rather than just considering how your company should respond to a sexual harassment claim, you should also consider how such incidences in your company can be decreased. Limiting your company’s liability is a valid concern but focusing on creating a non-threatening work environment for your employees may help you to create a sexual harassment policy that will be successful.
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such discrimination can manifest as:
- Requests for sexual favors
- Unwelcome sexual advances (both physical and verbal)
- Offensive jokes
- Name calling
- Physical assaults / threats
- Offensive objects or pictures
- Interference with work performance
The EEOC investigates thousands of sexual harassment claims per year—and given the current climate, those claims are likely to increase.
What you can do
Small to medium business need to understand that it is not just large corporations and famous celebrities that get hit with sexual harassment claims. If you have as few as 15 employees you could find yourself facing such a suit, so taking an active role in preventing workplace sexual harassment and correcting any incidents should be a priority for you.
Written Policies and Procedures. Having written policies and procedures against sexual discrimination provides a major legal defense against liability. By having policy and procedures in place, it shows that you’ve made a good faith effort to prevent and correct harassment. Such policies and procedures should include:
- Definition of sexual harassment
- A procedure for filing complaints
- Designated employees trained on receiving and documenting complaints
- Encouragement in filing complaints
- Assurances of confidentiality and non-retaliation for reporting
Providing training on sexual harassment to employees
Providing comprehensive training on what sexual harassment is, how to recognize it, how to report it, and the responsibilities for both workers and employers can save your company a lot of future headaches. Your training course should contain both theoretical and practical content—using drills, hypothetical situations, and other means to provide a personal understanding of sexual harassment. It is also wise to train managerial and supervisory staff separately from employees.
Prevent sexual harassment before it occurs—talk to an employment law attorney
Ultimately your best approach to harassment in your company is to create and adhere to a zero tolerance policy. By refusing to tolerate such behavior and protecting any employee subjected to it, you not only protect your company but also invest in your greatest resource – your employees. An experienced NY employment law attorney can work with you to develop the appropriate policies and steps to take to prevent and correct sexual harassment within your company. If you have questions about your company’s sexual harassment policies contact us online or call 718-275-6700 today to schedule a consultation.