As I am sure many employers know, sexual harassment is one of the hottest topics in employment law right now. It has been covered in the newspapers from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Al Franken. Many employers are probably hyper aware of sexual harassment issues in the workplace.
Employers may ask what is actually sexual harassment.
Here is how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines it: “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.” Sexual harassment can be male on female, female on male, male on male, or female on female.
Employers should also know that the EEOC also says that “... although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”
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As such here are some tips that employers can follow as they try to navigate these difficult waters.
▪ It is helpful if employers conduct thorough investigations into any allegations that are reported to them.
▪ Having a sexual harassment (as well as other types of harassment) policy also can be very helpful.
▪ Training employees on company policies about reporting harassment also can be helpful in making sure everyone understands expectations of the workplace.
▪ Seek legal counsel when you are unsure how to handle a situation.
If you have any questions about this or other employment law matters, you should contact the counsel of your choice.
Sarah Phaff is an attorney at Gorby Peters & Associates focused on finding practical solutions for her clients.