Urgent: Employers Must Know the Laws About Sexual Harassment

Don't get burnt by this hot topic.

Jul 25, 2018

Sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the hottest topics in the media. According to Personnel Psychology, Sexual Harassment (SH) is one of the most damaging barriers to career success. A study conducted using a sampling of 70,000 revealed the following symptoms: Decreased job satisfaction, lower organizational commitment, withdrawing from work, physical illness, decreased mental health, and PTSD.

Defining Sexual Harassment

"Sexual harassment is recognized as a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies and certain labor organizations as well as certain federal government employees."

The EEOC and the courts define sexual harassment in two ways.

1.    Quid pro quo: When an employee is terminated or demoted for refusal to engage in unwelcome sexual activity from a supervisor (male or female).

2.   Hostile Environment: When an employee is subjected to sufficiently severe or pervasive sexually offensive behavior and alters the conditions of the person’s employment and creates a hostile or abusive work environment.

Part 1604 of the Code of Federal Regulations provides discrimination guidelines and Section 1604.11 relates to sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment laws can be confusing; therefore, individual states must propose legislation and implement and enforce laws to protect employees. Secondly, states must decide on preventative measures such as training for employees and supervisors. 

As an employer, are you confident that you can handle sexual harassment issues? Are you up-to-date on your state's legislation? It's imperative, now more than ever, to stay on top of the ever-changing harassment laws. While the Federal government does not require an employer to have specific policies in place, they strongly encourage  employers “to take all necessary steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring.” These steps could include:

  • Affirmatively raising the subject.
  • Expressing strong disapproval.
  • Developing appropriate sanctions.
  • Informing employees of their right to raise, and how to raise, the issue of harassment under Title VII.
  • Developing methods to sensitize all concerned.

The EEOC suggests "employers should implement programs with an explicit policy against sexual harassment" and share with all employees.  

Besides providing a safe environment for employees, and adhering to current laws, it's important to realize that sexual harassment can have long-term mental and physical effects to victims. Even if the employee does not speak out for fear of losing their job, their attention focuses on the threat, instead of their work, ultimately lowering productivity and company morale.

In summary, it's up to you, the employer to stay up-to-date on your state's laws regarding sexual harassment. With the influx of cases that have arisen in our country, there are numerous pieces of legislation being brought forward on a daily basis. With this in mind, your number one priority should be to protect your employees from sexual harassment by not only implementing, and enforcing policies, but communicating these policies with all employees and providing the necessary training for your staff.

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