The Importance of Sexual Harassment Training in the Workplace
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment has moved into the spotlight in a big way. Employment practices that for too long evaded scrutiny have been dragged into the light for all to see. And employers have needed to respond to increasing awareness about sexual harassment by redoubling their commitment to a harassment-free workplace.
Unfortunately, too many businesses have grown lax in the past few years, believing that sexual harassment is a thing of the past. Harassing conduct however continues to occur, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of quid pro quos or sexual assault of the Harvey Weinstein variety. To ensure that you protect your business, you must constantly update your sexual harassment policies and trainings.
Clarify What Constitutes Harassing Behavior
Some potentially harassing behavior has become so normalized that people are probably unaware that it is offensive. Nevertheless, minor slights by themselves might not constitute harassment but, when taken in combination, can qualify as harassment.
Legally, harassment is any unwelcome conduct based on age, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin. Harassment qualifies as discrimination when:
- Enduring it is a prerequisite to employment—such as sleeping with a boss so as not to get fired
- The conduct is so pervasive and severe that it makes the environment hostile or abusive
To protect your business, you should clearly prohibit harassing behavior such as:
- Offensive jokes
- Unauthorized touching
- Put downs
- Offensive imagery
Create Clear, Simple Methods for Employees to Complain
An employer can protect itself from some harassment charges if you take care to prevent and correct harassing conduct. However, you need to hear about it first. Consequently, you need to create simple, transparent ways for employees to report harassing behavior.
Some employers continue to struggle in this area. They create complaint processes that are too rigid or confusing, or that actively discourage employees from raising complaints. For example, the EEOC recently brought lawsuits against IHOP franchises for sexual harassment, noting that the company’s illegal complaint process required that employees call New York within 72 hours of any alleged harassment. Instead, you should offer employees multiple contact points at their place of employment so that reporting harassment is easier.
Take Immediate, Appropriate Action
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends that employers take corrective action regardless of whether offensive conduct rises to the level of illegality. After an investigation, you should quickly respond so that the employee does not commit the wrongful conduct again. Of course, your response should be appropriate to the severity of the conduct. In some situations, you might need to fire the employee for extreme conduct. In other situations, a reprimand and sexual harassment training might be appropriate.
Include information about punishment in your sexual harassment materials and trainings. This will show you are serious about rooting out and correcting wrongful conduct and can protect you if you need to discipline an employee.
Speak with a New Jersey Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today
Sexual harassment is a complicated area of law. At the Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP, we have advised countless employers on how to meet their responsibilities in this area of law, and we are available to consult with you. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.