The workday provides multiple challenges to employers. Maintaining productivity, following federal and state regulations, and dealing with the inevitable “job crisis” all have to be accepted as part of your daily activity. One problem that should never be overlooked in the workplace is sexual harassment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines define sexual harassment as:
• Unwanted sexual advances • Unwelcome requests for sexual favors • Unwelcome physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
o Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment; o Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is the basis for employment decisions adversely affecting such individual; or o Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonable interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating a hostile work environment.
Your obligation as an employer arises before any act of sexual harassment even occurs. Under federal and state law, an employer is liable for sexual harassment and must take reasonable steps to prevent harassment before it occurs. Additionally, employers must take effective steps to remedy harassment once they are aware of a complaint. An employer who can demonstrate steps taken to prevent and correct harassing behavior will substantially limit its liability.
The first step of prevention requires that employers create and disseminate (on a regular basis) a sexual harassment policy and reporting procedure. This should include:
• A statement of the company policy against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation • Definition of sexual harassment • Non-retaliation policy • Specific procedures for prevention • Reporting procedure (designate a person(s) in addition to the immediate supervisor or manager) • Timely reporting requirements by anyone aware of inappropriate behavior
Employers are also wise to provide anti-harassment and discrimination training for their managers, supervisors, and HR staff and to promote a harassment free-environment. Sexual harassment and retaliation incidences are unpredictable; therefore, employers must educate their managers and supervisors to recognize and respond to violations of the law.