How to prevent sexual harassment lawsuits at your business

No one wants to feel threatened or intimidated at the workplace. Work is supposed to be a safe place, and as an employer you want your employees to feel happy and excited about showing up every morning. And you want them to feel comfortable and hopefully trust the people around them. Sometimes, though, there’s behavior you might not see from some of your employees that makes others feel vulnerable or uneasy. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not something to be taken lightly. The negative effects that it has on a workplace are serious. That’s why it’s so important to know how to prevent bullying in the workplace and take steps to prevent harassment. We’ve got some tips to help you keep harassment out of your business.

What counts as sexual harassment?

There are many different behaviors that could be seen as sexual harassment. In a broad sense, there are four different types of harassment to be on the lookout for.

Verbal taunts or physical acts.

This includes catcalling and whistling as well as making rude or threatening gestures. Unwelcome or inappropriate looks are also a form of sexual harassment. Then there are unwanted compliments or attention that make the recipient feel uncomfortable. To this point, many employees working at restaurants have reported some form of harassment.

Keep in mind that having items (for example posters or calendars) on display that are sexual in nature is also a form of sexual harassment if people in the workplace are uncomfortable with it.

Requesting sexual favors.

There’s a type of sexual harassment called quid pro quo in which a manager or someone in a position of authority offers an employee some sort of incentive, such as a promotion or raise, in return for sexual favors.

This could also apply if an employee is punished in some way for refusing to give sexual favors, or is threatened with negative consequences (such as being fired) for their refusal.

Keep in mind that because this is between a supervisor and an employee, the company will be found liable.

Allowing a hostile work environment.

A hostile work environment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is a workplace that includes behavior that a reasonable person would find offensive or threatening. This could be in regards to the atmosphere and feel of the workplace.

Keep in mind that sexual conduct is considered to be unwelcome if the victim does not ask for the attention or encourage it. Sexual harassment is viewed based on the impact of the behavior, not the intent. Even if someone doesn’t “mean to” harass someone, it’s still considered harassment if it makes the victim feel threatened. Sexual harassment is seen from the perspective of the victim.

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How can my company prevent sexual harassment?

It’s important to prevent harassment in the workplace. To reduce the chances of sexual harassment in your business, there are a few things you can do.

1. Have a sexual harassment policy that stresses zero tolerance.

To make sure that everyone is aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and what the consequences are, your business should have a sexual harassment policy. The policy should explain the disciplinary action that will be taken if it’s found that an employee is harassing someone. The goal of the disciplinary action should be to eliminate the behavior so that the victim feels safe again. And the discipline should be the same across the board, with no favoritism shown and no excuses made.

Your policy should clearly define what sexual harassment is, explain the procedure for reporting a claim, and outline what will happen throughout the process of investigation.

2. Have different ways for employees to report sexual harassment.

Sometimes employees don’t feel comfortable stepping forward to report sexual harassment. They might fear retaliation or punishment in some way for reporting it. They might not want to be seen as causing trouble. Maybe they want to handle it themselves, or maybe they’re ashamed. Whatever the reason, it’s important to make sure that your employees have multiple ways in which to report harassment. What if the harasser is the employee’s supervisor? That wouldn’t work if they’re told only to report the behavior to, well, their supervisor.

Ideally, you’d have a male and a female HR representative or designated person to receive harassment claims. If the victim is a woman they might feel more comfortable talking to another woman, and likewise a male victim might want to talk to a man.

3. Make sure there are no negative consequences for reporting sexual harassment.

If there’s a claim of sexual harassment, it’s important to not unintentionally punish the victim by moving them from their job or department. Your employees need to know that they don’t have to fear retaliation if they come forward. They also have to know that claims of harassment won’t be ignored. (This is also a legal liability – if your business or management is aware that the behavior is happening and doesn’t do anything to stop or investigate it, you’re legally liable.)

4. Have a system for examining claims of sexual harassment.

You need to make it a point to investigate all claims of sexual harassment. In order to investigate effectively, you need to have a plan. Some general tips for your investigation…

  • Document everything.
    • Details of the complaint
    • Investigation plans
    • Witness accounts
    • Any adjustments made to the plan/records
    • Findings of the investigation
    • Conclusion
    • Disciplinary measures
    • Plans for monitoring the harasser
  • Be impartial and stick to the facts.
  • Talk to other employees and witnesses and check on the work schedules of the people involved.
  • Do everything you can to protect private information and maintain confidentiality.
  • Consider how severe the conduct is. Is the conduct welcome or not? Who else could be affected by the behavior? Would a reasonable person perceive the conduct as hostile?
  • Take any potential conflicts of interest into account.
  • Seek legal guidance.

5. Don’t delay.

Make sure that you take action ASAP after receiving a claim of sexual harassment. As we explained earlier, if your business is shown to have known about the situation and done nothing to correct it, you could be held liable if the case goes to court.

Plus, you want your employees to know that you’re there to help them and that you won’t let any inappropriate behavior stand.

THe workplace should be safe and free of harassment.

Your employees should feel safe in their place of work. If there’s something going on or someone threatening them, the workplace becomes hostile and unwelcoming. Make sure that you address all claims of sexual harassment and protect your employees from unacceptable behavior from their coworkers.

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