Unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when....
Following the above is a lengthy set of examples and other conditions that make up the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) definition of sexual harassment. And that's just the start.
Atop Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the main federal law from which all other anti-harassment law flows, there are state laws, as well. The letter of these laws matters most, but beyond that, the rule of thumb in avoiding an unfavorable harassment verdict is "reasonable care," says the U.S. Supreme Court. The more you do to prevent and, when necessary, address harassment in your workplace, the better you can prove that you took reasonable care to prevent it. You should know that:
- Employers may be liable for sexual harassment damages even when they were unaware that harassment was taking place.
- Many states mandate sexual harassment but even if your state does not, getting your employees (especially supervisors) trained makes for good "reasonable care."
- Laws surrounding sexual harassment overlap and relate to other anti-discrimination and "hostile workplace" regulations, including those covering harassment and/or unfair treatment based on race, age, disability or national origin. Your sexual harassment policy is one brick in your anti-discrimination wall.
Know the requirementsInvestigate federal requirements for wording, posting and distribution of anti-harassment information and related rules, but note that each state has its own additional regulations. Laws also may vary by company size.
Get the trainingStarting in January, 2006, all California businesses with 50 or more employees must deliver a two-hour sexual harassment training, adding California to the list of 21 states now requiring some form of sexual harassment training.
Develop your company policyThe details take careful writing, but the message of a policy is simple: zero tolerance. The policy should include steps for filing complaints.
EEOC offers a detailed guide to writing a small-business policy. When you have a draft ready, find a local labor and employment attorney at LawInfo to review your policy and recommend additions or amendments.
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!Reasonable care includes doing everything possible to spread the message about your company's zero-tolerance policy.
- Live up to your policy. Monitor the behavior of your workers and supervisors. Upon observing or hearing about unacceptable behavior, or upon receiving a complaint, follow the stated policy to the letter.
- Litigants may be able to review company email and other communications that may contain information relevant to a harassment suit. Monitoring communication for unacceptable behavior is as important as monitoring workplace behavior.
- If you post a generic anti-harassment poster, alongside it post a summary of company-specific policy information and your "zero-tolerance" message.