Protect Your Business & Employees from Sexual Harassment

By: Arthur  Ehrlich

As allegations of sexual harassment dominate headlines from Hollywood to the State Capitol, it is important to understand what actually constitutes sexual harassment and how to protect your business and employees.

Sexual harassment generally falls into two categories: quid pro quo sexual harassment, when a supervisor suggests that the employee may receive a benefit or favorable treatment in exchange for a date or sex, or harassment in a hostile environment, when there are repeated comments of a sexual nature or uninvited touching, which are deemed offensive to the employee.

Keeping this definition in mind, in addition seeking an experienced legal professional at the first hint of any potential issue, here are five tips to protect your business and employees from sexual harassment:

  1. Enforce a ZERO Tolerance Policy.  A single joke may seem innocent and the employee not appear to be offended, but tolerating a single incident encourages others to make similar comments, which ultimately creates a hostile environment.
  2. Provide Training to All Staff. Regularly educate your staff on what actions and statements might be construed as harassment and about other types of illegal discrimination. Provide a clearly written anti-harassment policy so employees understand what behaviors are prohibited.
  3. Set an Open Door Reporting Policy. Create an open reporting system that allows for employees to make any complaints of harassment. Designate who complaints can be made to and set up an anonymous hotline if possible. Employees should also be encouraged to report harassment of another employee.
  4. Establish Effective Internal Investigation Procedures.  It is imperative that a well-trained person investigates the complaint ASAP. The investigator must be fair, impartial and open minded. Failure to perform an effective and prompt investigation will result in a lawsuit. Any inappropriate act should be dealt with through appropriate discipline.  Separate the employee from the alleged harasser but not in a way that might inconvenience the employee.
  5. Take a Firm Stand on Any Hint of Retaliation. Transferring the employee might be seen as retaliatory even if done to separate her from the harasser. Be very careful before disciplining the employee in the future unless it is unequivocally justified.

Arthur Ehrlich is a partner at Goldman & Ehrlich, which primarily practices employment law.