Sexual Harassment

The movie North Country, based on the case of Jenson v. Eveleth Mines, reminds us of a time when sexual harassment was not taken seriously. This landmark case, which took 14 years to settle, demonstrated the need for the creation of workplace anti-harassment policies and programs to help protect employers from sexual harassment lawsuits and provide employees with a process for reporting harassment as well as methods of remediation.

What are some recommendations that employers and employees can follow to help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?

Employers

  • Employers should have a strong employment practices loss-control program in place that includes an anti-harassment policy statement of zero tolerance—it is forbidden by coworkers, customers, vendors or any other third parties.

    The program should also include:
    • A complaint procedure: Employees should be required to promptly report harassing conduct that they experience, learn of or witness; there should be multiple sources to which employees can report.
    • Prompt and thorough investigation: All complaints should be taken seriously and investigated promptly and thoroughly.
    • All investigations should be considered confidential—but not to preclude an effective investigation.
    • There should be a no retaliation statement—employees should be confident that a complaint will not result in retaliation such as loss of their job, demotion, etc.
    • Corrective action should be taken: Harassment policies should be broader than the law requires; it should be clear that an employer could find a violation of the policy and resolve it by taking prompt action thereby avoiding liability.
  • The company’s anti-harassment program should be well publicized; posted in conspicuous places throughout the workplace; and ideally should include an employee training component.
  • Employers should make sure they have the right insurance coverage in place to help protect the company and its directors and officers from the financial impact of an employment practices liability lawsuit.

Employees

Employees should be aware of their employer’s workplace harassment policies. An employer that does not have a strong program in place most likely does not have a corporate culture based on mutual respect.

  • Employees should consider the following:
    • Does the employer strongly prohibit workplace harassment?
    • Is the policy publicly posted, and have all employees been made aware of the policy?
    • Do employees understand the policy and the reporting process in case of a violation?
    • Does the company have effective complaint procedures in place?
    • Does the company have a no-retaliation policy?
    • Is there an anti-harassment employee training program?
  • Employees should be aware of their rights under the law and company policies.
  • Employees who witness or experience harassment may want to keep it confidential, but they need to understand that confidentiality cannot preclude an effective investigation.
  • Managers and supervisors should have a heightened responsibility to take action when harassment is seen in workplace.

Next: Slips and Falls