In 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received over 6,800 reports of sexual harassment, which resulted in 1,829 charges that were settled for $46 million. And that figure does not reflect the 20 lawsuits that are still under litigation.
Not only do businesses face potential financial penalties for sexual harassment cases, but they risk significant damage to their brand in the court of public opinion. To protect themselves from prosecution and potential incidents, most organizations draft sexual harassment policies as part of their employee manual.
However, merely having a defined sexual harassment policy may still leave your business vulnerable.
Would you like create a proactive approach and confront sexual harassment issues head on? Read our e-book: Strategies for Preventing Harassment in the Workplace to learn a number of actionable strategies that will help protect your employees.
To more fully protect your organization, you need to offer regular sexual harassment training that clearly outlines company policy as well as the law. And while it is important for all your employees to receive this training, particular focus should be placed on your management team.
In a 2016 report on harassment in the workplace, the EEOC identified that one of the key factors needed to create a culture of non-harassment was the participation of company management.
Conversely, it also found that "leaders who do not model respectful behavior, who are tolerant of demeaning conduct or remarks by others, or who fail to support anti-harassment policies with necessary resources, may foster a culture conducive to harassment."
With managers playing such a critical role in preventing harassment, you should properly equip them to identify and react to potential issues before they occur. For the policy to be truly effective, you should consider evaluating their responses to issues of harassment in their performance reviews.
The increased responsibility of managers has also been clearly outlined in the landmark cases of Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton. In these decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that a business can be held "vicariously liable" for sexual harassment conducted by supervisors.
The Court further identified that an employer may be able to avoid liability (or at least limit damages) by employing an affirmative defense and demonstrating that the business "exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior."
Routine sexual harassment training coupled with a well-enforced policy are frequently considered to be "reasonable" efforts.
Depending on your state, sexual harassment training may even be required by law for your management staff. Businesses with more than 50 employees in both California and Connecticut are expected to provide all managers, even those recently promoted, with sexual harassment training. And in Maine, all companies with 15 or more employees must provide training to all new hires within the first year of employment.
Not only can your business be held legally responsible for the direct actions of your management staff, but a failure to act can be equally damning.
Back in 2014, a grocery chain was forced to pay out $487,500 to seven of its employees after they had experienced an ongoing campaign of sexual harassment from a customer.
On repeated occasions, these employees reported the harassment to supervisors and the store's security department; however, the store's management held that they would not act unless personally witnessing the misconduct.
By failing to respond to these charges of harassment, the court found that the business had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which "requires employers to take prompt action to investigate and to stop the behavior after they receive complaints."
To protect your business, your entire labor force needs to be fully aware of not only your organization's harassment policy but also what steps they should pursue to enforce it. And with legal requirements placing added focus on your front-line supervisors and managers, you would be wise to make sure that they are adequately prepared to prevent harassment before it even occurs.
To learn more about our sexual harassment prevention courses, you can fill out the form on the right to request a demo.