Sexual Harassment – Quick Refresh

June 28, 2013

Since we get quite a few calls on this subject, we thought it would be worthwhile to share the following as a quick refresh?

Sexual harassment is, by definition, a type of discrimination which includes gender-based harassment, bullying, or coercion of a sexual nature.  Any type of unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances, requests for favors, or other conduct that is used as a condition of employment may be considered unlawful sexual harassment. If a supervisor uses sexual favors as a basis of employment decision-making, whether between same-sex or opposite-sex individuals, this too may be considered sexual harassment in the workplace.  It is imperative that an employer has a thorough workplace policy in place which communicates the company’s zero-tolerance of any type of harassing  behavior, as well as what employees may do if they become victims of harassment.  Employers who are proactive in training employees and supervisors, and regularly enforce the organization’s stance against harassing and intimidating behavior in the workplace generally have reduced exposure to harassment-related liability.

Harassment may occur between colleagues, a supervisor and a subordinate, or between a client, vendor or associate of an organization and its employee.  Providing adequate training to employees and management staff will ensure that the organization is consistent in its handling of harassment complaints, applies disciplinary action when warranted, and is prepared effectively for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.   Employers who communicate to their staff the importance of maintaining a harassment-free environment will promote a productive workplace environment as well as help keep the employer out of court.

Though there are currently only three states that mandate supervisory employees to be trained on Sexual Harassment (California, Connecticut and Maine), it is suggested that all employers  incorporate a training program for their employees to become familiar with the organization’s policy on anti-harassment, as well as what types of behavior constitute harassment.

Investing the time in the workforce and implementing a workplace anti-harassment policy will help employees learn how they can help prevent harassment from occurring in the workplace.  Supervisors who partner with the Human Resources Departments on the enforcement of Anti-Harassment policies as well as effectively communicate intolerance for unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace are more likely to prevent sexual harassment from taking place.  Upon receiving a complaint of harassing behavior, it is also critically important to effectively and consistently conduct a harassment investigation in order to resolve the complaint.