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Know the signs of sexual harassment and address them

Ignoring sexual harassment claims can prove to be a big mistake for employers across Florida and nationwide. According to federal harassment laws, employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace harassment and make sure employees understand their options and rights when it comes to reporting such behaviors. They are also expected to take appropriate action against a party engaging in harassment.

However, not every claim has merit and even those that do can be extremely complicated. Employers should be thorough in investigating the matter, and in doing so should be aware of some of the common signs or indicators of sexual harassment.

Perhaps the most overt display of harassment comes in physical form. This includes inappropriate touching, kissing and grabbing. It can also include obscene gestures and degrading behaviors. In many cases, there are witnesses to this type of action, but not always, so it important to always keep an eye out for potentially threatening or abusive behaviors.

Sexual harassment can also be verbal which may be even harder to identify. Signs of this type of harassment include inappropriate comments on an employee's appearance, lewd jokes and threats or promises of certain sexual actions. In today's modern workplace, some of these exchanges happen through email or text, so it might be a little easier to track down evidence of this type of harassment.

In many cases, verbal and/or physical harassment has a profound impact on a victim's emotional and psychological state. A victim can feel scared, nervous, anxious and even threatened when they have been mistreated. In these situations, the workplace environment can rise to the level of being considered hostile.

As we have mentioned, it is not always easy or even possible for employers to stop every instance of alleged sexual harassment in the workplace. However, failure to take reasonable steps to prevent or address such behavior can be grounds for serious legal and financial penalties. Employers who have questions about their obligations and duties to their employees would be wise to discuss their concerns with an attorney.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Harassment," accessed on April 9, 2015

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