Sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality in the American workplace. While the perpetrators often go unpunished, employers must understand that they, too, are liable when incidents occur and are reported.
Simply having a policy in place, or making public statements denouncing harassing behavior will not suffice in the instance of a legal complaint. According to the compliance firm, Atlantic Training,
Many businesses in the United States suffer from costly repercussions due to sexual harassment in the workplace. Though there is widespread public knowledge regarding sexual harassment and the dangers it presents to companies, many organizations fail to address the issues and continue operations while seeming to ignore the problem. Companies know it exists, yet it appears they don’t know how to handle it. This puts the employer at risk and liability.
One of the first and most fundamental steps an organization and its management can take is educating themselves on the facts related to workplace harassment, and sexual harassment in particular. Any kind of failure to acknowledge and recognize the extent of this issue, and the potential for harassment in their own organization, can lead to insufficient compliance to existing laws.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
With all the recent publicity surrounding celebrities and other public figures in regards to sexual assault, harassment and other allegations, the subject has been highlighted extensively in the media. However, it is possible for managers and business owners to dismiss the possibility of these types of crimes occurring in their own organizations. Unfortunately, the facts reveal an disturbing picture.
How prevalent and costly of an issue is sexual harassment in the workplace? This infographic from Atlantic Training offers a snapshot of statistics that provide a vivid look at the scope of the problem:
[Infographic courtesy of Atlantic Training]
Not only are employers liable for the actions of their workers under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), but they can be held accountable if they were aware of actions that constitute sexual harassment. Keep in mind that harassment is a form of discrimination and subject to lawsuits in the workplace.
In addition to a comprehensive, written policy outlining the definition and examples of harassment, management must provide regular training for managers. This is an area where some extra measures are a good approach and providing sexual harassment training for ALL employees is recommended by most HR experts.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is a particularly serious form of harassment. Consequently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has an additional section that provides the legal parameters that define sexual harassment. It is harassment that is comprised of:
...unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex."
Although it is not technically considered harassment to engage in simple teasing or offhand comments, all employees and managers would be wise to simply avoid such actions. Nor are isolated and non-serious incidents considered harassment. However, they do become illegal when they are:
"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)."
Employer's Are Liable for Workplace Sexual Harassment
It is important to keep in mind that, as an employer, you can be liable for sexual harassment that is carried out by a supervisor that results in termination of the victim, a failure to promote or hire, or any loss of wages, according to the EEOC. This applies even if the employer, or managers of the supervisor, were unaware of the harassing conduct:
"The employer will be liable if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action."
This means that employers must ensure that suitable and sufficient preventative and corrective policies and procedures are in place and effectively enforced. This is critical as the law provides for an employer to avoid liability if it can be shown that they:
1) Reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior; and
2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.
A Partner for HR Management Best Practices
Accurate and timely management and compliance practices are required for HR professionals in every business. Maintaining this can be challenging, but there are 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.