Addressing Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Jim Luff
Posted on January 10, 2020
Be sure you're prepared to deal with sexual harassment claims when they happen.

Be sure you're prepared to deal with sexual harassment claims when they happen.

Defining Sexual Harassment

While you might think you fully understand sexual harassment, the feelings of the person being harassed will be the most important determiner. The people who will define harassment include judges, juries, and insurance carriers. Sexual harassment is defined as offensive remarks about a person’s sex or orientation, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Simply making comments about people, their bodies, their reputation, or anything else construed as offensive is against the law. The law applies equally to men and women, and the victim and harasser can be of the same sex. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not even an employee of the employer, such as a vendor or customer. As an employer, you must take steps to protect all employees from any act of harassment.

Your Insurance Might Not Cover Claims

Most general liability policies exclude coverage for sexual harassment. However, you can purchase a separate policy called Employment Practices Liability Insurance. This coverage may also be included in a directors and officers’ policy, so make sure you aren’t buying coverage you already have. Most EPLI policies do not provide coverage for owners or directors accused of sexual harassment but provide coverage for lawsuits brought against them as individuals in a lawsuit. Do not assume your basic GL package will cover these claims. Ask your agent for specifics of your policy.

Employee Training Requirements

Training requirements vary among states with the District of Columbia requiring mandatory training for all employees working in a tipped profession. California requires a two-hour training class for supervisors and a one-hour class for all employees at least every two years if the company has more than three employees and/or contractors. Connecticut began requiring a two-hour class for all employees in January / February 2020 for any company with more than three employees. Many states have no mandatory training. Make it a point to become familiar with the laws that pertain to your state.

Zero Tolerance

The most important message within your company is you adhere to a zero tolerance policy on harassment. This includes protecting employees, contractors, and even vendors from exposure to anything that might be perceived as harassment. This includes conversations with sexual innuendo, sexual jokes, suggestive comments, and crude, lewd, or obscene conversations or words. Business owners must provide a healthy work atmosphere free from harassment.

Reporting Procedures

The most important tool you must implement in your business is a reporting system that allows all employees an opportunity to report perceived harassment. The procedure might include a form to report specific incidents with the date, time, location, witnesses, and the offensive behavior. You may also designate people who can verbally accept a report and document the information. Complainants must feel comfortable you will accept their complaint as valid and know action will be taken immediately to halt the offensive behavior.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not serious, harassment is considered illegal when so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Harassment can also be claimed when it results in an adverse employment decision such as the victim being fired, demoted, or not promoted.

Handling Discipline

It is important you document all actions taken to address a complaint. Approaches can range from an oral to a written reprimand, unpaid suspension, or termination. You can also require mandatory attendance at a sexual harassment training program. Discipline should include stating the next course of action should an employee continue to engage in offensive behavior.

Protecting Employees After a Complaint

There is no doubt a person who files a complaint against a co-worker or supervisor could become subject to retaliation after a complaint. Often, the person accused of harassment will file a counter-complaint against his/her accuser that will allege they had engaged in offensive behavior as well. The original complainant must still be protected. It is recommended the name of a complaining party not be identified to the accused. However, an alleged incident may be so detail-specific the person accused knows who complained and perhaps the whole company knows. Either way, you must make every effort to create a peaceful work environment.

Great Ideas provides a broad range of information focused on new ideas and approaches in management, human resources, customer service, marketing, networking and technology. Have something to share or would like covered? Contact LCT General Manager and California operator Jim Luff at [email protected]

Related Topics: business management, chauffeur training, How To, Sexual Assault, sexual harassment, staff training

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