EMPLOYERS | Sexual and Other Harassment

Employers may be held strictly liable for sexual and other forms of harassment carried out by its employees on other employees, so it is imperative that any employer take steps to prevent such behavior.

What is sexual harassment?

Harassment in the workplace typically can happen in two ways:

  1. A supervisor demands sexual favors from an employee in return for extending benefits or for not taking adverse action. This is called quid pro quo or “this for that” harassment.
  2. A supervisor takes actions or creates conditions for an employee that make the job intolerable. This is called a hostile work environment and can occur in connection with sexual harassment or any of the other forms of unlawful discrimination.

What kind of conduct can be harassment?

“Harassment” sufficient to support a lawsuit can take many forms. Here’s a partial list:

  1. Unwanted sexual advances
  2. Asking for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits
  3. Distribution of written communications on paper or by e-mail that are derogatory or involve stereotypes based on any of the following characteristics (this list is partial):
    1. race
    2. religion
    3. color
    4. national origin
    5. sex
    6. disability
  4. derogatory comments, slurs, jokes, or nicknames
  5. leering, gestures or display of derogatory photographs, calendars, cartoons, drawings, posters and so on
  6. assault, impeding or blocking movements, or touching
  7. retaliation for reporting harassment or threatening to report it

What to do to prevent sexual and other harassment and minimize your risk of liability

  1. First and foremost, adopt a training program for your employees to educate them on the do’s and dont's.
  2. Establish policies and procedures for employees to follow in reporting instances of harassment, investigating complaints and doing something to correct the problem. These should do the following:
    1. clearly describe the prohibited conduct;
    2. clearly describe the protection offered to complaining employees against such conduct;
    3. clearly explain your procedures for reporting complaints;
    4. protect confidentiality as much as possible;
    5. establish an effective process for investigating complaints;
    6. ensure immediate and appropriate enforcement.
  3. Assign a specific, qualified person to establish and conduct the training program and procedures.
  4. Follow your own procedures, religiously—This is crucial because failure to your own policies and procedures will make the difference between exoneration and liability in many cases.
  5. Get insurance coverage for this kind of risk—talk you’re your insurance agent about what coverage is available.