“Don’t Date Your Boss:” Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
It seems every week local news media report new allegations of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. As we all know, college campuses are not the only place these issues arise. In addition, the EEOC recently reported a $20,000 settlement in the sexual harassment case of EEOC v. Hot Wheel City case. These reports serve as an important reminder that sexual harassment is a serious issue that employers should deal with proactively.
While the old adage, “don’t date your boss” comes to mind, preventing sexual harassment is not that simple. While employers have a duty to prevent sexual harassment, developing a prevention plan can be difficult. We suggest the following measures:
- State your policy. Have a sexual harassment policy that is in writing. Distribute it to your employees and update it as needed. In the policy, define “sexual harassment” and give examples of what types of conduct are unacceptable. Here, it is important to note that direct sexual advances are not the only form of sexual harassment – sexual comments can also be considered harassment. Make it clear that sexual harassment allegations will be taken seriously, and that confirmed acts of sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Anyone, regardless of gender, age, or supervisory level, can be the subject of harassment and harassment can occur between employees of the same gender.
- Educate your employees. Institute a training program; hold a seminar or information session. Educate your employees to know what types of behavior constitute sexual harassment. Provide information on how to report and address issues of harassment and encourage early reporting. It is also important to make sure supervisory level employees understand their responsibility in providing a harassment-free workplace. Supervisors need to understand that an employee should never be disciplined or retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment.
- Create a grievance and investigatory procedure. Create a process for reporting incidents of sexual harassment and for investigating those reports. Make sure employees have a neutral option for reporting concerns. In other words, the employee should not have to report to the alleged harasser. Emphasize the employee’s active role in the reporting and investigation process.
- Take Action. After an investigation, take appropriate disciplinary action, or implement remedial measures. Even if there is no report of harassment, employers should also work to eliminate any observed, abnormal behavior which could be perceived as harassment.
With some foresight and planning, you can help your company avoid becoming the subject of another local medical or EEOC report. If you need help creating policies or conducting an investigation please contact a member of our Employment Law team.