Preventing Sexual Harassment in The Workplace

Every year, there are tens of thousands of reported cases of workplace sexual harassment in the United States. Outside of those numbers, many experts believe a majority of harassment incidents go unreported. Clearly, sexual harassment is a major issue for U.S. businesses and their employees. That is why it is so important for businesses to have well-crafted, clear sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures, as well as processes for addressing allegations of inappropriate and unlawful behavior. In this article, we will review how employers can take steps to protect their employees and meet their responsibilities under the law.

How to address reports of sexual harassment

If you do receive an allegation of sexual harassment, start by treating it with the utmost gravity and severity. The allegation does not have to be formal for you to launch an investigation: workplace gossip or a single off-hand conversation with a human resources (HR) employee is grounds to start looking into the matter.

As part of your sexual harassment policy, you should have put together a general roadmap for investigating, and dealing with, allegations of harassment. If you have an HR team, they should have a detailed plan and process for talking to all the parties involved as part of their investigation. If you do not, you should:

  • Talk with the employee making the allegation to get the full scope of what happened and what witnesses were present. Take detailed notes. During this conversation, you should refer back to your company’s policies and how the employee is protected from retaliatory action.
  • Next, speak with the employee accused of inappropriate behavior. Tell them that you are conducting an investigation into the incident, and that your work will be fair and transparent.
  • Interview any witnesses to the incident to get their perspective on what happened. As with before, be sure to take detailed notes. The more witnesses you have, the better understanding you will have about what transpired.
  • Take all your notes and findings and talk with a trusted employment attorney in Los Angeles. They can review the details and give you the go-ahead to move forward with action.
  • Depending on the results of the investigation, decide what to do. Be consistent with your sexual harassment policies, taking into account the recommendations of the employment law attorney.

Addressing allegations and incidents of sexual harassment can be difficult and complex. There is no general prescriptive approach for what to do in every scenario. Instead, managers will need to make tough, informed decisions. In general, make sure you:

  • Conduct all sexual harassment allegations in the exact same manner, based on the same policies.
  • Thoroughly document the investigation, your conversations, and your decision-making process.
  • Consult with an attorney and human resources specialists if you need guidance.

Preventing sexual harassment

All employees have the right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment. For both the safety of their employees and their own legal liability, it is important for businesses to take proactive steps to prevent and deal with harassment allegations.

Every workplace should have a clear, published sexual harassment policy. This document outlines what sexual harassment consists of, what the the discplinary measures are for those who engage in harassment, and what the reporting process is. Typically included in an employee handbook or onboarding materials, your company’s sexual harassment policy should also include language regarding your obligations, including investigating any and all allegations of impropriety and protecting those who report harassment from any form of retaliation.

Everyone at your business—from your part-time and temporary employees to your managers—should be put through a mandatory training where you go over these policies and reinforce the reporting mechanism for sexual harassment allegations. Above all else, it is critical to have a clear, open way for employees to report incidents of sexual harassment, without fear of retaliation or their claim being ignored.

Review your policies with an attorney

If it has been several years since your business’ sexual harassment policies were updated—or if you are just now creating them for the first time—you should have an experienced employment law attorney review them before you publish and share them with your employees. These policies are not one-size-fits-all: there may be special considerations based on your industry, the size of your business, and the states in which you do work. An attorney can help you navigate these waters and craft a sexual harassment policy that is in the best interests of both your company and your employees.

To learn more about the prevalence of harassment in U.S. workplaces and how employers are addressing harassment allegations, be sure to take a look at this infographic from the law firm of Blair & Ramirez LLP in Los Angeles, California.

Infographic-Preventing Sexual Harassment in The Workplace

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How to Navigate Ongoing Sexual Harassment at Work

When you’re on the receiving end of sexual harassment at work, it can be a very confusing and emotional time. It takes a lot of strength to keep a level head and take the right steps to protect yourself, but it’s ultimately the right thing to do for yourself and for others.

If you’ve reported sexual harassment to your employer and they aren’t taking action, it’s time to seek legal representation. Under most federal and state laws, once you tell your employer about an incidence of sexual harassment, they become liable for any future harassment. An employment discrimination lawyer will be able to help you assess your situation and determine the next steps.

Under federal law, you have 300 days from the alleged act of harassment to initiate litigation. Time is of the essence, so retaining an attorney should be your first step if you’re experiencing sexual harassment at work. You should also consider the following steps if the harassment is ongoing. 

Record any incidents of harassment 

Any time you experience harassment, make sure to write down a description of the incident. You should include the date and approximate time, the location where the harassment occurred, and the names of anyone who witnessed it. Keep this information on a personal device so it remains private for the time being. Others may eventually read your written account of the harassment if you litigate, though, so keep your information as clear and easy to read as possible.

Inform your attorney of potential retaliation 

Retaliation is, unfortunately, a real concern for some employees who report harassment at work. It occurs when an employer or supervisor “takes an adverse action against a covered individual because he or she is engaged in a protected activity.” In the case of sexual harassment, the protected activity would be reporting inappropriate conduct. If you suspect you are the victim of retaliation, you should consult your attorney to determine how to proceed. 

You should also gather your work records right away to avoid retaliation from your employer. This is essential for proving your past work history and performance, so you can dispute any unfounded disciplinary action your employer takes against you. 

Take time for self-care 

Don’t just take care of the legal aspects of your case – you need to take care of yourself, too. It can be a very trying experience to stand up against sexual harassment. It can also be rewarding when justice is finally served, and your harasser realizes he or she can’t continue to get away with offensive behavior. Whatever your feelings about the situation, make sure to cut yourself some slack and know that it would be a trying time for anyone in your shoes. A mindful approach to your case can make the process easier for you; so can activities such as meditation, exercise, and other stress relievers. 

Never sacrifice your own safety 

If you’re in the middle of building a sexual harassment case and your employer hasn’t been helpful, you may still be forced to have some contact with your harasser. Never put yourself in an unsafe position for any reason, especially for the sake of your legal case. If the harassment crosses the line into assault or any other behavior that makes you feel unsafe, speak to your sexual harassment lawyer in Minneapolis about the best course of action.

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