Understanding Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome verbal, physical or visual contact of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment. It can take the form of quid pro quo harassment, which occurs when a supervisor requests sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits, such as hiring or promotion, or retaliates against an employee for rejecting sexual advances. Employers should take all sexual harassment complaints seriously and investigate allegations thoroughly. If your business is dealing with a sexual harassment claim, an experienced Monmouth County business attorney can help.

Preventing Sexual Harassment

Employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. They should start by adopting a sexual harassment policy. Such policies should:

  • Define sexual harassment and clearly state that such harassment will not be tolerated
  • Inform employees they can be disciplined or fired for engaging in sexual harassment
  • Outline a clear procedure for reporting sexual harassment
  • Clearly state that all sexual harassment complaints will be fully investigated
  • Warn that retaliation against a complaining employee will not be tolerated

An attorney who specializes in employment law can help you draft or update the sexual harassment policy for your business.

Employers should also hold regular training sessions, at least once per year, to teach employees about sexual harassment and review the company’s sexual harassment policy. Supervisors and managers should receive separate training about dealing with sexual harassment complaints.

Correcting Sexual Harassment

Employers also have a duty to correct sexual harassment once an employee brings it to their attention. Corrective actions might include:

  • Disciplining or firing the wrongdoer(s)
  • Redistributing the company’s sexual harassment policy
  • Offering refresher training to employees, managers and supervisors
  • Restoring lost salary or benefits if the victim was retaliated against
  • Revising the company’s sexual harassment policy if necessary

If an employer confirms sexual harassment has occurred and takes no corrective action, the company could face a lawsuit.

Handling a Sexual Harassment Complaint

If an employee makes a complaint about sexual harassment, an employer should:

  • Talk to the employee and reassure him or her that retaliation will not be tolerated
  • Tell the employee to report retaliation immediately
  • Ask the employee to share the entire story
  • Listen and take notes, recording important details like dates, times, what happened, the alleged wrongdoer(s) and witnesses
  • Interview potential witnesses
  • Interview the accused wrongdoer(s)
  • Decide whether sexual harassment has occurred
  • Take appropriate corrective actions
  • Follow up with the employee about the results of the investigation
  • Follow up with the accused wrongdoer(s)
  • Document everything from start to finish
  • Cooperate with government agencies
  • Maintain confidentiality

An employer may even need to hire an outside investigator if multiple employees have complained or if the alleged wrongdoer is a high-ranking company official. If you need assistance handling a sexual harassment complaint, call a qualified Monmouth County business lawyer today.

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