Despite decades of attention in the media and courts, new spotlights on systemic sexual harassment highlight a significant and costly problem in today’s business environment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, since 2010, more than 7,000 sexual harassment charges have been filed with the agency each year.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that can occur in a variety of circumstances. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct:
- Explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment;
- Unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance; or
- Creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Preventing and Correcting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Below are various actions the EEOC recommends employers take to prevent and correct workplace harassment.
- Establish, distribute, and enforce a policy prohibiting harassment and setting out a procedure for making complaints. An employer’s anti-harassment policy should make clear that the employer will not tolerate sexual harassment or retaliation against anyone who complains of harassment or who participates in an investigation.
- Conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of any harassment complaint. The investigator should interview the employee who complained of harassment, the alleged harasser, and others who could reasonably be expected to have relevant information. The alleged harasser should not have any direct or indirect control over the investigation.
- Take immediate measures to stop confirmed harassment and ensure it does not recur. Disciplinary measures should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense. The employer also should correct the effects of the harassment by, for example, restoring leave taken because of the harassment and expunging negative evaluations in the employee’s personnel file that arose from the harassment.
Taking steps to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace not only promotes a healthy and productive work environment, but it may also help an employer defend against liability in the event the employer is held responsible for unlawful harassment.
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