REPOST ARTICLE SOURCE:
Discrimination and unlawful harassment based on sex is referred to as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur in any combination of working relationships – among employees or between employees and supervisors. Employers have one basic obligation to their workers – to provide a safe working environment free from discrimination and harassment. Although a tall and sometimes ambiguous directive, it’s an easy task for employers who understand applicable employment laws, enforce workplace policies and give serious attention to employee complaints.
Employers can’t properly address employee complaints about sexual harassment without first understanding federal and state employment laws about discrimination and harassment. An employer’s initial responsibility is to research laws that apply to the employment relationship and to learn what constitutes discrimination and harassment. In doing so, employers learn to recognize behavior considered inappropriate for the workplace and how to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state fair employment agencies – called FEPAs – such as the Texas Workforce Commission provide resources to employers who need technical guidance and training regarding federal and state fair employment practices.
Employers should develop a written policy that prohibits sexual harassment – it’s usually included with the company’s equal opportunity policy and described as a form of discrimination that will not be tolerated in the workplace. The written policy should be a part of the employee handbook, for which an employee must sign an acknowledgement form indicating receipt and agreement with the company policy. All sexual harassment matters are not alike; however, the policy must also indicate that employee discipline is subject to discipline, depending on the circumstances.
Addressing sexual harassment complaints includes listing the steps to take whenever employees and supervisors recognize behavior that’s inappropriate. The steps include to whom incidents should be reported. Typically, an employee who recognizes or is subjected to improper behavior considered sexual harassment should talk to her supervisor or manager. If she can’t talk to her immediate supervisor or if her supervisor is the alleged harasser, the employee should go to another manager or directly to the human resources department. All supervisors and managers, however, have a responsibility to act on reports of sexual harassment by reporting them to the human resources staff person with the responsibility for investigating employee complaints. If the company doesn’t have a dedicated human resources department, a high-ranking manager should be designated as the employee charged with investigating and resolving complaints of sexual harassment.
Employers have an additional responsibility to hold supervisors accountable for their actions, involvement and behavior associated with sexual harassment. When supervisors engage in unlawful behavior or turn a blind eye towards sexual harassment, the employer can be held liable for supervisors’ missteps or failure to acknowledge incidents of unlawful harassment and discrimination. Many employers take a firm position on a supervisor’s role in reporting and responding to incidents of sexual harassment.
Immediate investigation of employee complaints about sexual harassment is critical. Employers are responsible for hearing employee complaints, determining the investigative action necessary for resolving the situation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission strongly advises employers to respond immediately whenever an employee complaint contains allegations of unfair employment practices and sexual harassment is one such complaint that deserves the attention of human resources or company leadership as soon as practicable. The EEOC conducts its own investigations related to sexual harassment claims, but it’s never a good idea for employers to rely solely on the EEOC’s investigation. Employers demonstrate their willingness to engage in proactive measures — even though investigation of an employee complaint is a reactive step. An employer investigation is required to prepare a position statement on the employer’s behalf. In the event the company doesn’t have an employee relations specialist or another staff member with the expertise to conduct a confidential investigation, employers have a duty to notify legal counsel.