1/01/2017 (press release: cdklawyers) // Dallas, Texas, United States // Keith Clouse
Although the spotlight right now seems to be on Hollywood with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it is important for employers to remember that sexual harassment claims can occur in any workplace. Because sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers with fifteen or more employees have a legal responsibility to maintain a work environment that is sexual harassment free.
The two types of sexual harassment claims that may be brought against employers are: (i) quid pro quo harassment, and (ii) hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when some work benefit is conditioned upon an employee complying with a sexual request or favor. A typical example is where a boss tells an employee, “You have to sleep with me to get the promotion.” On the other hand, hostile work environment claims stem from many different types of behavior including: inappropriate jokes or gestures, unwelcome touching, offensive or intimidating comments or insults, etc.
Although the majority of sexual harassment claims are brought by women who are harassed by men, the law protects all forms of harassment, including men who are sexually harassed by women, men who are sexually harassed by other men, and women who are sexually harassed by other women. So long as the harassment is “because of…[the victim’s] sex” it is considered prohibited sex discrimination.
Under Title VII, employers may be liable for actions taken by individual employees if it can be shown that the employer knew or should have known that the harassment was occurring and did nothing to prevent or correct the employee’s behavior. Therefore, employers should implement the best practices listed below to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace and reduce their risk of liability for such claims.
Clear policy: Employers should have a clear sexual harassment policy spelled out in an employee handbook which notes a zero-tolerance approach to such behavior, encourages victims or witnesses to submit complaints, and outlines a process for employees to complain. Additionally, the policy should include a provision explaining that those employees who do complain will not be retaliated against.
Distribution of the policy: The policy or handbook containing the policy should be distributed to all employees. Employees should be required to sign a form acknowledging that they have reviewed the policy and agree to comply with its terms.
Commitment to the policy: Employers need to demonstrate a commitment to enforcing the policies - no exceptions or special treatment should be made for employees who violate the policy.
All staff: Training should define what sexual harassment is (including the many forms it can take), give a detailed explanation of the complaint procedure, encourage the use of such procedure, and demonstrate a commitment by management to investigate all complaints.
Supervisors and managers: Special training should be held specifically for supervisors and managers to explain how to recognize sexual harassment, how to know when a complaint is being made, how to respond to and investigate a complaint, etc.
Other Prevention Strategies:
Ongoing assessment: Employers should regularly update and modify their sexual harassment policies and training to keep on top of new advancements in the law. As policies are updated, these new policies should be communicated and distributed to employees.
Workplace culture: Employers should encourage open communication between employees and upper level managers and supervisors.
Reporting procedure with options: The procedure for employees to report sexual harassment complaints should have various people listed who an employee can complain to. An employee who is being harassed by a supervisor or manager needs to be able to report the behavior to someone other than the harasser. This also encourages more open reporting by providing different outlets in case employees feel more comfortable talking to a certain supervisor or HR manager over another.
Timely investigation: All complaints should be taken seriously and investigated in a timely manner, regardless of how small or insignificant the complaint may seem.
Proper discipline: Employers should have a clear disciplinary procedure outlined for violations of the anti-harassment policy which is consistently enforced among all employees.
By incorporating the above practices into the workplace, employers will work towards preventing discrimination and harassment, be better prepared to handle such behavior when it does occur, and reduce their risk of liability for sexual harassment claims brought by employees.
This article is presented by the Dallas employment lawyers at Clouse Dunn LLP. To speak to an employment law attorney about an employment harassment or discrimination matter send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (214) 239-2705.
About Keith Clouse / Dallas Employment Attorney Keith Clouse
Keith Clouse is an employment law specialist with over 25 years of experience representing senior executives, business owners, physicians, and corporations in complex employment litigation, arbitration and negotiations. Senior executives, physicians and other professionals consistently rely on Mr. Clouse for employment law expertise and advice on employment contracts, covenants not to compete, severance agreements, equity awards, trade secret disputes, and breach of fiduciary duty claims. Source CDKLawyers.com
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