In California, if an employee claims to feel uncomfortable, afraid or in some way bullied or coerced, they can claim to have been sexually harassed. The problem for employers and managers is that the behavior is sometimes unintentional or hard to classify, which can still cause problems.
Harassment of all types are rightfully unlawful and unwanted in any workplace. However, the reality of working with other people is that undesirable and even unlawful behavior occurs. When it is done out of ignorance of the law and workplace policies, the matter can usually be resolved without legal action.
However, organizations are perpetually at risk and must take every precautionary measure possible to eliminate and prevent any type of harassment, and especially sexual harassment.
Clarifying Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Workplace sexual harassment is defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as,
"unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment”
The EEOC goes on to explain that,
"Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted)."
The state of California has similar laws that further define sexual harassment in the workplace. In short, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) defines sexual harassment in the following manner:
"...unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser."
For employers, the state adds visual conduct as a clear element of harassment, which includes "leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters."
Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
In addition, the state of California requires that all employers with at least 50 full-time, part-time or temporary employees or independent contractors provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees once every two years.
Supervisory employees are those with authority to hire, fire, assign, transfer, discipline, or reward other employees. A supervisor is also anyone with the authority to effectively recommend (but not necessarily take) these actions, if exercising that authority requires the use of independent judgment.
The training required is fairly extensive and consists of sexual harassment prevention training in a classroom setting, through interactive E-learning, or through a live webinar.
CalChamber recommends that businesses train all employees on conduct that California considers unlawful harassment in the workplace, not just supervisors as required by law.
Sexual Harassment: Additional Prevention Measures
In addition to clarifying company policies regarding harassment and sexual harassment, in particular, these should be clearly documented in employee handbooks and reviewed with each employee upon hiring.
However, sexual harassment prevention is a both a practice and a cultural component. It is something that a company should do and be a part of it's company culture and corporate values. An article in Forbes.com suggests the following three tips for establishing and maintaining sexual harassment prevention:
- Taking the lead on preventing sexual harassment needs to come from the very top of an organization. Not from the chief operating officer, not from the EVP of HR, but the CEO.
- Build zero-tolerance harassment-related language into every manager's performance objectives. Make it an explicit expectation, and any problems at all will be a bright red flag: One strike and you're out.
- Have a universally known, easily accessible, and absolutely safe place to report it. It could be a hotline, a section of a website, a unit in HR, whatever mechanism feels appropriate for a given culture.
In light of the fact that businesses today function in a society that lauds tolerance, the exact opposite is true for behavior that is either explicitly harassment, or just approximates it. There should be a "zero-tolerance" stance in the culture, language, and actions of every business. This is needed to protect the organization as well as the victims of this type of behavior.
Your Partner for Workplace Management
Accurate and timely management and HR compliance practices are required for HR professionals in every business. Managing all of this can be challenging, but you do have options.
Accuchex is a reputable workforce management services provider and can not only assist you with the burden of your ongoing compliance demands, but can potentially prove to be a more cost-effective solution, as well.
Click the button below to learn what you need to know about labor law in California. For more immediate information, feel free to call Accuchex Payroll Management Services at 877-422-2824.