Avoiding a sexual harassment lawsuit requires an understanding of exactly what ‘sexual harassment’ is as defined under the law. The law tells us that sexual harassment is, among other things:
An unwelcome sexual advance
A request for sexual favors
Either physical or verbal harassment of a sexual nature at a workplace.
The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) further defines sexual harassment and states that it does not have to specifically relate to sexual behavior, or be directed at any specific person. An example of this would be making negative comments about a group of women.
The law does not recognize isolated offhand remarks or general teasing unrelated to sex or gender as unlawful harassment even though these comments may be emotionally upsetting. So, what does sexual harassment look like under the law?
What is Sexual Harassment?
If you want to avoid a lawsuit for sexual harassment, you should know which behaviors may cause issues. A harasser can be of any gender and have any form of relationship with the victim, such as a manager, coworker, peer, colleague, indirect supervisor, or work-related title.
Some of the types of harassment that could land you in legal trouble include:
Touching someone or making physical contact which is unwelcome
Making conditions of advancement or employment dependent on a sexual favor
The physical act of sexual assault
Making unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances
Talking about sexual relations, fantasies, or similar conversations
Requesting sexual favors
Jokes which refer to sexual orientation or sexual acts
Sharing sexually explicit emails, text messages, or photo.
Are All Physical Contacts Sexual Harassment?
Sexual and romantic overtures come in many varieties and not all of them are considered harassment under the law. Unlawful sexual harassment is the ‘unwanted’ or ‘unwelcome’ acts or words of the harasser to the victim. These acts or words must be sufficiently severe or pervasive in nature to cause an abusive environment to the recipient.
How to Avoid a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
There are a number of strategies to put in place to reduce your risk of sexual harassment lawsuits.
Make sure all employees understand what actions or words will be considered sexual harassment
Make sure all employees understand they will be fired or disciplined if caught sexually harassing anyone
Ensure all employees understand you will not tolerate retaliation against anyone complaining about harassment
Have a clear procedure for employees to file harassment complaints
Update your Employee Handbook to ensure all of your policies, including those on sexual harassment are up to date
Provide annual training to all employees, especially managers and supervisors.
Where to Learn More About Sexual Harassment
If you are concerned about sexual harassment in the workplace, talk with Danz Law, or visit www.danzlaw.net and learn how you can put policies into place for reporting, prohibiting, and investigating harassment cases. Talk with us today and learn how these situations can be avoided so your business doesn’t face a lawsuit.