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By Mark Dorosz
VP of Compliance Learning, Interactive Services
Sexual harassment claims and unfavorable court rulings may result in the company owing back pay, such as wages and benefits, as well as front pay, such as position reinstatement. This does not include punitive and compensatory damages. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) actively investigates and penalizes employers who violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Sexual harassment is not completely avoidable, but taking the practical steps to preventing common occurrences is critical for organizations.
Create an Anti-Harassment Policy
Before HR can conduct sexual harassment compliance training, there will need to be a well-written anti-harassment policy with specific guidelines and communication requirements. Most companies use this policy to explain their investigation process and establish the chain of command for reporting sexual harassment. Although supervisors are the contact point for almost all employee issues, it’s recommended to appoint a higher ranking member of management such as the HR manager. This policy can be reviewed with employees and supervisors every year as well as during new employee orientation.
Recognize Both Types of Sexual Harassment
There are at least two different types of sexual harassment. First, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when employees are confronted with positive or negative outcomes certain behaviors. For example, a supervisor may insinuate that the employee may lose their job if they fail to comply with their demands. Second, a hostile work environment creates uncomfortable interactions and inappropriate atmospheres that target specific employees. This type of sexual harassment usually occurs through derogatory comments, unwelcome behavior and inappropriate jokes.
Conduct Comprehensive Training
Supervisors need continual training to understand what sexual harassment is, what to do if it occurs and how to prevent it. The most common theme among sexual harassment lawsuits is a supervisor harassing a subordinate. Companies are fully liable for all actions taken by the supervisor who represents the company. Some managers and supervisors may resist sexual harassment training, so it’s common for vice presidents, area managers and local executives to support training activities. Documenting leadership participation demonstrates an attitude of zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
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