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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace; Forming a Basis for Prevention and Management

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace; Forming a Basis for Prevention and Management

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: May 26, 2009 Updated: June 17, 2011

The trending in workplace sexual harassment cases reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has steadily declined in the past decade, with women in-particular filing fewer complaints.

Despite this encouraging fact, the impact on a small business should it face a sexual harassment lawsuit can be devastating - both to its finances and its reputation.

No matter how many employees you have, as a business owner you need to understand and comply with sexual harassment laws - for your sake and for the sake of a professional working environment.

Below I’ve provided background on sexual harassment law, as well as tips and resources for establishing a sexual harassment policy.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment occurs when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee against his or her wishes.

The most common forms occur when promotions, benefits, or employee reviews are tied to sexual activity or when an employee experiences hostile work place harassment that makes them uncomfortable, e.g. sexually charged remarks, unwelcome advances, the display of sexually explicit images, etc.

Understanding Sexual Harassment Law

Sexual harassment law was first enacted as part of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which led to the formation of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

If one of your employees is sexually harassed, the law can hold your company liable even if the harasser is a fellow employee, client, or even a vendor. As a rule, however, you're only considered liable if you knew about the problem and did nothing to stop it.

Basic information for small businesses about the laws enforced by EEOC can be found in its Equal Employment Guidance for Small Businesses.

When an Employer is Held Responsible for Sexual Harassment

In 1998, the Supreme Court determined that in certain instances employers can be held legally responsible for unlawful harassment by its supervisors. This was based on the premise that 1) an employer is responsible for the acts of its supervisors, and 2) employers should be encouraged to prevent harassment and employees should be encouraged to avoid or limit the harm from harassment.

The EEOC's Guidance on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors explains the law and gives guidance on how, as an employer, you can prevent and correct harassment and how it is the duty of employees to avoid harassment by using their employers' complaint procedures.

Examples of actions could include disciplining or firing an employee who engages in sexual harassment, or offering mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees.

You can also read Questions & Answers for Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors.

Preventing & Managing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Business owners, managers and the business culture they propagate are critical components of any no-tolerance plan regarding sexual harassment.

Should harassment occur, you will need to provide evidence that you took appropriate steps to prevent and handle the incident. This is why a sexual harassment policy is critical.

Sexual harassment training programs in the workplace are a key part of any sexual harassment policy. In fact, 62 percent of U.S. businesses now offer some form of sexual harassment prevention training programs for managers and employees - and, while these programs are not mandated by law, they represent a positive step toward prevention that can also protect an employer in the event that a sexual harassment lawsuit is filed.

Read Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Primer by Barry Roberts and Richard Mann, for helpful guidance on developing and implementing a sexual harassment policy in your small business.

To summarize their recommendations - understand sexual harassment; communicate a policy; enforce a policy; establish procedures; and enforce policy.

Government Resources

Other Resources

 

About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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Employees who suffer from sexual harassment are usually afraid to go to court, so sexual harassment is revealed and punished only rarely.Thanks for providing this valuable information on prevention and management of sexual harassment in the workplace. Irena ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
Employees who suffer from sexual harassment are usually afraid to go to court, so sexual harassment is revealed and punished only rarely.Thanks for providing this valuable information on prevention and management of sexual harassment in the workplace. Irena ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
I have had a bad case regarding this issue. About tow years ago I suffered sexual harassment from my employer . At that time, I started suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and lost control of my life completely. I quit my job, had no money, and was too afraid to go to court. I have found on the internet a guide name 'panic away' that helped me tremendously, and I manage to get rid of my panic attacks without having to go to a doctor or a shrink. So if you to suffer from panic attacks or anxiety disorder you should try it! It really helps. ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
I have had a bad case regarding this issue. About tow years ago I suffered sexual harassment from my employer . At that time, I started suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and lost control of my life completely. I quit my job, had no money, and was too afraid to go to court. I have found on the internet a guide name 'panic away' that helped me tremendously, and I manage to get rid of my panic attacks without having to go to a doctor or a shrink. So if you to suffer from panic attacks or anxiety disorder you should try it! It really helps. ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
I have had a bad case regarding this issue. I filed a lawsuit years ago against my employer for sexual harassment and the court just dismissed my case for lack of eveidence. I now work as a medical malpractice cases consultant and being in the field of law, I know now what went wrong with my case. Just be wary when filing a case like this and make sure you have all the necessary prrofs to back-up your claims.
I have had a bad case regarding this issue. I filed a lawsuit years ago against my employer for sexual harassment and the court just dismissed my case for lack of eveidence. I now work as a medical malpractice cases consultant and being in the field of law, I know now what went wrong with my case. Just be wary when filing a case like this and make sure you have all the necessary prrofs to back-up your claims.
I currently have a problem with this in my workplace. One of the employees that I work with just recently started harassing this woman that works in the department right next to us. I'm not sure how to go about saying something to him without having any problems. She mentioned what he has done to her but she never mentioned anything about sexual harassment, but I could tell she was thinking it just by the way she talked. After reading you post, I might have an idea on what to do. Thank you! ------------------------------overcoming panic attacks Message Edited by NicoleD on 09-30-2009 11:08 AM
I currently have a problem with this in my workplace. One of the employees that I work with just recently started harassing this woman that works in the department right next to us. I'm not sure how to go about saying something to him without having any problems. She mentioned what he has done to her but she never mentioned anything about sexual harassment, but I could tell she was thinking it just by the way she talked. After reading you post, I might have an idea on what to do. Thank you! ------------------------------overcoming panic attacks Message Edited by NicoleD on 09-30-2009 11:08 AM
This is a great article!!  Was wondering if you would be interested in adding links to SafetySkills' online sexual harassment prevention courses for employees and managers: http://www.safetyskills.com/human-resource-compliance/sexual-harassment-and-discrimination-for-employees http://www.safetyskills.com/human-resource-compliance/sexual-harassment-prevention-for-managers 

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