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Friday, May 8, 2015

How Employers can Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In today's fast-paced world, many people spend more time at work than they do at home. That often means more time around our coworkers than our own families.

Workplace dynamics and morale play a big role in job satisfaction. Many employers focus on fostering a healthy team spirit amongst employees in an effort to reduce turnover and increase productivity. But employers cannot overlook the importance of its fundamental moral and legal obligations to provide a work environment free of sexual harassment.

What is sexual harassment at the workplace?

There are two major categories for sexual harassment behavior: "quid pro quo" or a "hostile work environment."

Quid pro quo defines sexual harassment as an employee feeling pressure to submit to sexual advances in order to benefit from certain conditions of employment, or risk being punished by rejecting sexual advances. 

According to the American Bar Association, "a hostile work environment" is a more common claim and can be interpreted as inappropriate jokes, suggestive remarks, cartoons, pictures or sexually suggestive comments in the workplace. In general, the offensive behavior has to indicate a pattern, or happen multiple times, to be considered harassment. However, one especially offensive comment or picture may be enough to qualify as a hostile work environment.

How can employers protect themselves and their employees from sexual harassment?

Employers needs to make clear there is no tolerance for sexual harassment - or conduct that might be interpreted as sexual harassment - in the workplace. If someone is not sure whether a certain behavior crosses the line, it's best to avoid repeating that conduct altogether.

Employers need to routinely communicate their sexual harassment policy and the proper procedure for reporting behavior that violates it. By taking reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs, and swiftly taking steps to address inappropriate behavior immediately after it takes place, employers can protect themselves and their employees.

Employers' policy on sexual harassment in the workplace should include, but isn't limited to:

  • Clear policies that are presented to employees in writing and during training sessions on a routine basis.
  • Broad definitions of the types of behavior that are prohibited in the workplace, plus examples.
  • How to report incidents, and a reporting procedure that gives employees the opportunity to report behavior to someone other than their immediate supervisor.
  • Assurance that the company will not retaliate against employees who report inappropriate behavior.

Employers also need to determine the course of action that should be taken if or when an incident is reported. Employers need to respond quickly, and ensure the investigation process is not biased in a way that makes assumptions about either party's behavior. The employer also needs to determine whether the two parties should continue working together while the investigation is underway, or if steps should be taken to accommodate separate work areas.

An experienced employment law attorney can help your business minimize exposure to costly lawsuits and lost productivity by ensuring you have a solid framework of policies and procedures designed to effectively address sexual harassment. If you have questions about how to develop a sound office policy on sexual harassment, or would like an employment law attorney to review your existing policy, contact Megan Pearson today at mpearson@smithwelchlaw.com or call 770-957-3937. 

Smith, Welch, Webb and White, LLC is recognized as a premier law firm throughout the State of Georgia with expertise in employment law. We have an uncompromising commitment to serving our clients and our community. Our team of experts routinely handles a wide range of legal matters, and will provide outstanding legal service for you, your family or your business.

 

Any representations regarding the law in this Blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


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