November 8th, 2011
How to Reduce the Risk of Sexual Harassment in Your Workplace
News that the Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain once settled charges of sexual harassment has once again placed this complicated issue in the public eye.
The allegations against Cain appear to have followed a pattern we see frequently in our practice: the accused dismisses his behavior as misinterpreted joking; the victim is placed in an awkward position with few good options.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sex, which includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances including not only unwelcome sexual advances but also offensive jokes or remarks that rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment.
Despite nearly 50 years of Title VII enforcement and employer-sponsored training, workplace sexual harassment remains pervasive. Indeed, a recent AOL Jobs study found that one in six people have been sexually harassed in the workplace, with only 35 percent reporting the issue. Clearly many victims stay silent for fear of retaliation. In addition to the “human” costs, workplace harassment causes significant economic cost as well in the form of absenteeism, employee turnover, and diminished productivity.
So what is a company to do?
We continue to advise our clients to have a clear policy that defines what harassment is, and that establishes procedures for employees to report problems.
In addition, we recommend companies conduct annual trainings for all employees. These trainings need to clearly explain what behaviors are not acceptable and give employees guidelines for reporting when they suspect harassment or if they feel victimized. We suggest employees sign an acknowledgement that they have received training and that they agree to abide by the policy.
These two steps not only help create a more productive workplace, they also help reduce an employer’s legal exposure in cases where employees bring accusations.
If you have any questions about this legal alert, or other employment law issues, contact Wendy Stryker at (212) 705 4838 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Brian Maas at (212) 705 4836 or email@example.com, or any other member of the Frankfurt Kurnit Litigation Group.
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The New York State Senate and Assembly recently passed a bill adding substantial additional protections for employees. The new law will provide additional protections for employees who allege sexual harassment; remove certain employer defenses; alter non-disclosure agreements; extend the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims; and make changes to the laws governing sexual harassment policies and training. Read more.
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