Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – What Employers Need to Know

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) it is unlawful to harass a person, whether an employee or an applicant, because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.  Sexual harassment can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex, so it is illegal, for example, to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

The EEOC states 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 the victim being fired or demoted.

Prevention is the best way to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to have anti-harassment guidelines and clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

Here are important steps to take:

  • Write an anti-sexual harassment policy and be sure to review Title VII and your state law to make sure that you are including all applicable behaviors.
  • Encourage reporting of sexual harassment incidents and lay out clear steps on how to report claims. Identify several individuals within the company whom employees can choose to report to.
  • Your policy should be in your employee handbook. With sexual harassment currently front and center in the news, now is a good time to email the guidelines to every employee.
  • Train supervisors and all levels of management to spot, prevent, and punish sexual harassment and train employees in the correct steps to report sexual harassment. Conducting at least once-a-year trainings for employees and management is a good idea, and some states even require it by law.
  • Throughout the year, talk to your employees and managers about the work environment and look around your workplace for anything offensive and/or suggestive.
  • If someone complains about sexual harassment, act immediately to investigate the complaint.

Fully Effective Employees provides basic sexual harassment training and consultation, and for more comprehensive trainings and investigations, we work with our HR partner, Fit HR.  For more information please contact us at Fully Effective Employees .