Sexual harassment is back as a recurring headline in the media. Anytime sexual harassment allegations involve a prominent public figure, like Bill O’Reilly, you can expect that your employees will take notice and will be discussing the issue at work.
It’s important for employees to fully understand what constitutes sexual harassment under the law so here’s a quick refresher:
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when the 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.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not need to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee (vendor, customer, etc.).
- The victim does not need to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
Sometimes, heightened interest around a topic in the media, such as sexual harassment, may cause an increased number of sexual harassment allegations in the workplace. For this reason, you should make sure your organization’s leaders are aware of their responsibilities to eliminate unlawful harassment.
Employers should clearly communicate to employees, supervisors, managers, senior managers and executives that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. In addition, employers should:
- Provide sexual harassment training to all employees. An ideal schedule is at the time of hire, at the time of promotion to a supervisory role, and at least every two years for all employees.
- Establish an effective complaint process and take immediate and appropriate action when an employee comes forward.
- Ensure there is no retaliation against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation. Harassment training should cover the topic of retaliation as well.
MRA offers a wide variety of resources to support our members on this topic. The HR Resource Center has a sample Harassment Policy Checklist and Harassment Compliant Investigation Form to assist members. Our Learning and Development team offers a variety of harassment prevention training solutions. And, if needed, our Investigations team can provide the impartial, third-party perspective required when sensitive matters need resolution.
Source: Michael Hyatt, HR Government Affairs Director, MRA – The Management Association