Given the many high profile cases in the media, it is crucial for any business to understand its responsibility to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Generally, sexual harassment is deemed to be a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 (Title VII), and most states have far stricter laws in place designed to prevent harassment.
There are two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo (“this for that”) and hostile work environment.
- Quid pro quo – This occurs when an employer, most often a person in a position of authority, demands sexual favors in exchange for a job or any other benefit of employment including promotions, bonuses and raises. An employee who is fired, disciplined, or given a poor performance evaluation, for refusing a sexual advance may be the victim of this form of harassment.
- Hostile work environment – This involves an employee being subjected to a pattern of unwelcome conduct, such as comments or visual displays, that is severe or pervasive enough to create a distressing work environment and alter the conditions of employment.
In order to have grounds for a claim, the employee must demonstrate that he or she believed the conduct was offensive or hostile. In California it is not necessary to show that a reasonable person in the same position would believe the conduct was hostile. Further, in the case of a claim against a supervisor of the employee, the employee does not have to prove that he or she complained to management as a condition to initiating a claim for sexual harassment. However, through proper employee handbooks and policies, training of employees and counseling of the employer, an employer may be able to substantially reduce the effects of a claim for sexual harassment by requiring reporting and thus creating the “avoidable consequences” defense.
All employees have a right to a workplace that is free from sexual harassment. It is crucial for any business to establish policies to prevent such conduct, and institute procedures to address any employee concerns. In California, it is now legally required that employers adopt a specific, written anti-harassment policy. Ultimately sexual harassment is bad for business because it can create a toxic work environment that adversely impacts employee morale. Moreover, a lawsuit can not only lead to a costly settlement, but also damage a company’s reputation.
The employment law attorneys at Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P. counsel employers on how best to prevent claims for sexual harassment, such as through adopting and distributing proper policies, and conducting proper training for the supervisors and staff. In California, sexual harassment training is required when there are 50 or more employees and such training must include preventing abusive behavior in the workplace as well. If you are the owner or human resources manager of a company with employees, contact Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P. to learn more about our sexual harassment prevention counseling and training.