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Sexual Harassment – How Vulnerable is Your Company?

Unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment.

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The employer is always reliable for quid pro quo harassment by a supervisor under the so-called aided-in-the-agency-relation standard. Given the supervisor has been empowered by the employer to make economic decisions affecting employees under his/her control. In all cases of sexual harassment involving supervisors, a hostile work environment is created. The existence of an employer sexual harassment policy will help the company in providing the affirmative defense in such cases. Constructive discharge attributable to supervisors engaging in harassing conduct against a subordinate that result in transfer, pay cut, termination, or demotion cause the employer to be responsible for such actions as well. Therefore, it became increasingly important that supervisors should be warned about dating their subordinates. When supervisors must evaluate, assign, transfer, and offer other job benefits in the context of personal relationships that are subject to change, such circumstances are fraught with problems.

What Can Employers Do?

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The potential liability to employers for sexual harassment makes it evident that preventive steps by employers should be taken. An effective and trusting complaint procedure encourages employees to report harassing conduct before it becomes severe.

1) Develop and implement a sexual harassment policy and communicate it to all employees. Set forth specific examples of conduct that will not be tolerated to include:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances, either physical or not
  • Sexual jokes, comments about one’s sexual activity, an individual’s body, gossiping about one’s sex life, and deficiencies
  • Displaying of sexually suggestive objects, or pictures
  • Discussion on someone’s sexual activity and/or sexual experiences
  • Unwelcome hugs, leering, brushing against the body, sexual gestures

2) Advise employees on their responsibility to reject and/ or report less obvious types of harassment or unwanted sexual advances. The milder the conduct, the more responsibility the complainant employee has to express objection.

3) Establish ongoing educational programs to demonstrate unacceptable behavior. Maintain sign records of employees’ acknowledgement of educational programs. Such evidence may help an employer’s claim if faced with sexual harassment charges

4) Ensure employees there will be no retaliation against them for filing complaints. At no time should a supervisor be the first line of reporting of such cases, as he/she may very well be the harasser. Designate a responsible senior official to whom complaints of sexual harassment can be made.

5) Investigate all complaints promptly and thoroughly, avoiding non-factual allegations, separate the accuser and the accused until all matters are resolved.

6) Keep investigation information confidential. Only involve those who need to know.

7) Impose appropriate and consistent discipline as necessary, if the complaint has merit. Depending on the severity of the case, involve legal expertise.

 

By Sophia Sanchez, SPHR

Principal Consultant – Develop For Results International

Author of  “The Development Alternative: Powerful Strategies for unparalleled Business Results”

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