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Time’s Up! Tips on How to Avoid Sexual Harassment Liability in the Workplace

Posted February 6, 2018 by Jamie Hamelburg & Alfred Carry in Articles & Publications, Business Publications, Press Releases, Press, Dozier & Hamelburg News

It seems that every week there are new and salacious reports of sexual misconduct, which have sparked the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. A common thread in the news reports has been that the misconduct occurred in the workplace, with higher-ups demanding sexual favors of employees and creating a hostile work environment. 

Sexual harassment not only subjects the wrongdoer to potential criminal or civil liability, it also poses risks for employers who may have looked the other way and tolerated unlawful behavior. NBC is a good case in point; it has come under fire for its handling of the multiple sexual harassment claims brought against news anchor Matt Lauer. 

Companies can, and should, take steps to prevent their workplaces from becoming the type of environment where sexual harassment festers. First, every company needs to have a disciplinary policy on sexual harassment, and this policy needs to be clearly stated in the company’s employee manual. The manual also should address what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, how to recognize it, and how to address allegations of sexual harassment. 

Second, companies should make sure that all of their employees—from top executives to junior staff—are aware of and understand the policy. This can be accomplished in educational sessions run by outside experts or with role-playing scenarios. Another alternative is to create and require employees to watch a PowerPoint presentation on the company’s policy to educate participants on what acts constitute sexual harassment, to set forth a clear chain of reporting, and to advise on the possible disciplinary consequences of harassment. In either case, all employees should participate and sign an acknowledgment confirming that they received the training and understand that the company’s policy means that an act of sexual harassment will be grounds for discipline, which may include immediate termination.

Some states have specific laws requiring periodic mandatory training, but even in those states with no statutory requirements, courts will favorably consider steps employers took to create an environment in which sexual harassment is actively discouraged, promptly reported, and quickly acted upon. Companies and their employees will be best served when they deal with harassment issues proactively and positively.

For further information on issues regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, what it means, or for assistance with drafting your employment policies and employee manuals, contact Jamie Hamelburg at Press, Dozier & Hamelburg.