Prepare a comprehensive policy now and prevent problems later.
Federal and state laws have long required employers to take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
One crucial step is to prepare and distribute a written anti-harassment policy. However, the most common mistake employers make in drafting such a policy is to simply set forth the definition of unlawful harassment and state that it will not be tolerated. This approach is inadequate, as it can expose a company to litigation.
An effective policy prohibits all conduct that can be construed as sexual harassment, even that which may not rise to the level of unlawful harassment.
Following are some specifics that every employer should include in company policy.
Definition of sexual harassment
Generally, there are two kinds of unlawful sexual harassment: quid pro quo (expressly or implicitly conditioning employment benefits on sexual favors or denying benefits because of a refusal of sexual advances), and hostile environment (unwelcome sexual conduct so severe or pervasive that it creates an intimidating and hostile working environment). An effective policy includes both definitions.
When possible, a sexual harassment policy should be tailored to the problems that may actually arise at a given company. An employer's policy, therefore, should contain specific examples of prohibited verbal, visual, and physical conduct.
The more tailored the examples, the more likely the workforce will understand the type of conduct the company prohibits.
A complaint procedure
It is vitally important that employees have the ability to voice their complaints of sexual harassment.
The company, therefore, must implement a procedure enabling employees to do so. The procedure must allow employees to report complaints of sexual harassment to someone other than their direct supervisor.
Without this "bypass" ability, an employee may fear retaliation and not report the offending behavior. The company should provide the names and telephone numbers of the appropriate individuals who may be approached with complaints.
Next page: Complaints and Retaliation
About the author
Emma Luevano is a regular contributor to LatinBusinessToday.com on legal issues relevant to small and medium business. She is a partner at the law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP (www.msk.com) who advises and represents management on labor and employment matters, including sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, public policy violations, wrongful termination, class action wage and hour issues,and retaliation.