Sexual Harassment claims are on the rise and can cost employers significantly in terms of time, money, and lost productivity. According to the EEOC, over 1,700 complaints of discrimination based on sex (pregnancy or sexual harassment) were filed in California in 2014. When there is a sexual harassment claim, both sides can lose–in addition to the social, economic, and psychological effects suffered by victims of harassment, these complaints cost employers millions of dollars in legal fees and lost opportunities.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
The Fair Employment and Housing Act defines harassment because of sex as including sexual harassment, gender harassment, and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
The Fair Employment and Housing Commission regulations define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances; or visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser. The following is a partial list of violations:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
- Making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances
- Visual conduct: leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of suggestive objects or pictures, cartoon or posters
- Verbal conduct: making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, and jokes
- Verbal sexual advances or propositions
- Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic verbal commentaries about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words used to describe an individual, suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations
- Physical conduct: touching, assault, impeding or blocking movements
Under California law, employers are strictly liable when a supervisor or manager is responsible for the harassment. This means that the employer can be held liable for the acts of its employee even if there is no finding of fault by the employer, or even if management was not aware of the harassment. Employers may reduce their liability exposure, however, if (1) the harasser is a non-management employee, (2) the employer had no knowledge of the harassment, and (3) the employer takes steps to immediately and appropriately stop the harassment once he/she learns about it.
In addition, California Government Code Section 12940(k) requires that all employers “take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.” These steps may be satisfied in the form of appropriate sexual harassment training.
What Can You Do to Reduce the Risk of Sexual Harassment Claims?
1. Distribute DFEH Pamphlet
2. Post DFEH Poster
Second, employers must help ensure a workplace free from sexual harassment by posting in the workplace a poster made available by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
3. Sexual Harassment Training
Third, California companies with 50 or more employees are required by law to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors within six months of hire or promotion, and every two years thereafter. However, as a best practice, it is recommend that all employees of receive sexual harassment training as a way to minimize potential incidents among employees of all ranks, regardless of the size of the company.
4. Develop a Policy for Bringing and Review of Complaints
Fourth, the employer should develop a clear procedure for the bringing of complaints by victims of sexual harassment that includes immediate review and response by management.
5. Seek Professional Counsel
Finally, it is essential that employees are well-informed of the serious consequences that result when sexual harassment laws are violated. If you have any questions about how to effectively educate your employees about sexual harassment, or would like to audit your business policies, employment documents, or Employee Handbook, a licensed California attorney can help you review your business practices and help you implement any adjustments.
About The Grady Firm
The Grady Firm’s employment law department can provide Sexual Harassment Training in English and Spanish. In addition, its employment law department can update your business’ company policies/Employee Handbook, create new policies, provide personnel file forms, and explain the detailed nuances of California employment and wage and hour law.
To schedule a sexual harassment training, or complimentary 15-minute consultation with The Grady Firm’s employment law attorneys, call (323) 450-9010, or schedule an appointment online.