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How to Protect Your Business from Sexual Harassment Claims

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How to Protect Your Business from Sexual Harassment Claims

Whether you run a small family-owned business or a Fortune 500 company, you must be vigilant about complying with the numerous state and federal laws that govern the employer-employee relationship. With the “Me Too” movement sweeping across the country, now is an excellent time for employers to review and revise their sexual harassment policies. Toward that end, the Irvine business attorneys at Brown & Charbonneau discuss how to protect your business from sexual harassment claims.

Sexual Harassment Laws

In the United States, we operate under a federalist form of government which means we have both a strong central government and numerous semi-independent state governments. Consequently, a legal issue may be governed by federal law, state law, or both. Sexual harassment in the workplace, for example, if a form of sexual discrimination that violates both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (federal law) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (state law). One important difference between the federal and state laws is that Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees while all employment provisions in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) apply to employers with five or more employees and all anti-harassment provisions apply to employers with at least one employee.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment in the workplace refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Under FEHA, the offensive conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire, but may be based upon an employee’s actual or perceived sex or gender-identity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and/or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser, and actions that subject co-workers to a hostile work environment.

The victim of sexual harassment can be a man or a woman and does not have to be of the opposite sex as the harasser. In fact, the victim can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. Furthermore, the harasser can be, but does not have to be, in a position of authority over the victim. The harasser can also be an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

What Can an Employer Do to Protect against Sexual Harassment Claims?

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is particularly applicable to sexual harassment claims. Preventing situations that might lead to a claim of sexual harassment is preferable in a number of ways to try to defend a claim after one has been made. The following tips may help your business avoid sexual harassment claims:

  • Know the law. Ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. In order to ensure that you comply with the federal and state anti-harassment laws, you must first ensure that you understand the laws.
  • Create an employee handbook. Ideally, every business should have a written employee handbook. The larger your business is the large the handbook may be; however, even a small business should put all employment rules and procedures down in writing.
  • Conduct training. Every new hire should receive some type of training that discusses sexual harassment and other types of workplace discrimination. It is also a good idea to conduct ongoing training on at least an annual basis to ensure that employees remember the laws and procedures.
  • Have a complaint process in place. Within the employee handbook, you should have a section explaining the complaint process. Typically, complaints go up the chain of command within a business until the complaint is resolved.
  • Respond to complaints immediately. This is often the key to preventing a complaint of sexual harassment from escalating – take action immediately. Make sure the employee knows that his/her complaint is being taken seriously and is being investigated.

To ensure that your business’s sexual harassment policies, procedures, and training comply with current laws, it is always wise to work with an experienced business attorney when creating and/or updating those policies, procedures, and training.

Contact Irvine Business Attorneys

If you have additional questions or concerns about protecting your business from sexual harassment claims, it is in your best interest to consult with the experienced Irvine business attorneys at Brown & Charbonneau as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 714-406-4397 to schedule your appointment.