By Laurie Rogers
For the past few months, allegations of sexual harassment seem to be levied almost daily against politicians, celebrities, corporate officers, and others in positions of power. While the news coverage focuses on the famous, the issue can rear its ugly head in any business – from the mom and pop shop to the Fortune 500 company. The media scrutiny should motivate all employers to evaluate their sexual harassment policy. Is your policy adequate? Are you communicating your policy effectively to management and employees? Are you enforcing your policy?
Your Sexual Harassment Policy
At the minimum, your policy should state that sexual harassment in any form will not be tolerated. In addition, your policy should establish a clear procedure for hearing and handling complaints, and should set out the action the company will take if the policy is violated. A comprehensive sexual harassment policy will also be gender-neutral and will encompass customers, patients, clients, and vendors.
Communicating Your Sexual Harassment Policy
From the first day on the job, every employee should know that they have the right to not be sexually harassed at work and, if they are, they can and should tell management about it. Similarly, management, including the CEO and the Board of Directors, should know that all employees have the right to not be sexually harassed at work. Just as important, management should know that allegations of sexual harassment will be investigated and, if substantiated, will result in bona fide consequences.
In addition, all employees should receive training on how to make a sexual harassment complaint. They need to know that they can bring their complaint to management without fear of retaliation. Managers and executives should receive training on how to recognize sexual harassment complaints so they can quickly implement the company’s procedures for handling them.
Enforcing Your Sexual Harassment Policy
Your sexual harassment policy is as effective as your efforts to enforce it. You must promptly respond to complaints of unacceptable behavior by investigating the allegations, documenting the investigation, and taking appropriate disciplinary action that complies with your policy. Always take complaints of sexual harassment seriously. At the minimum, accusations of misconduct foster an unhealthy workplace environment. But complaints can also become charges filed with the EEOC or the State of Wyoming’s Fair Employment Program. Charges of sexual harassment can result in legal liability and negative publicity, both of which carry adverse financial consequences.
If you have questions about your company’s sexual harassment policy, if your company is actively investigating sexual harassment allegations, or if you are facing a charge of sexual harassment, the attorneys at Hirst Applegate can assist you. We have substantial experience advising and representing companies of all sizes on sexual harassment policies, claims, and lawsuits.