Employers are legally responsible to maintain a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. No employer can afford to allow any kind of sexual harassment to exist in the workplace. The consequences are too costly including poor employee morale, low productivity and, of course, lawsuits with the threat of huge money damages awards. Employers should, at a minimum, take the following steps:
1. Publish a written policy on sexual harassment and actually implement it. If a policy exists, review it for compliance with EEOC guidelines and good human resource practices. Any policy must at least:
- Define sexual harassment and identify, by example, the prohibited conduct;
- Contain a reporting procedure which provides two or more people to whom a complaint can be made, particularly if one of the named individuals is the harasser. If persons of both sexes are named, an employee cannot argue that he/she was uncomfortable talking to a person of the opposite sex.
- Advise employees about their legal rights under state and federal law and where they can file formal complaints.
2. Distribute policy to supervisors and employees.
3. Periodically train supervisors and other employees about how to recognize and report inappropriate workplace conduct.
4. Require all employees to acknowledge in writing that they received the policy and are aware of the reporting procedures.
5. Promptly investigate and document any complaint of sexual harassment; take prompt corrective action where necessary.
These preventive strategies can serve an employer well in preventing workplace harassment and reducing its risk of exposure to these kinds of claims and lawsuits.