Avoiding Sexual Harassment

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Avoiding Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions.” In the workplace, sexual harassment is considered sex discrimination and is thus regulated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The “right to sue” under the EEOC allows an employee to bring their claim of sex discrimination to court. Claims are typically heard by federal court since anti-sex discrimination laws are federal laws.

Avoiding Sexual Harassment Claims between Employees and Supervisors

Supervisors are held to a different standard than other employees because they are in a position of power and control over their subordinates. 

It's always bad judgment for a supervisor to date someone who reports to them, but it does occur in the workplace and does not always lead to harassment of the employee. However, when there are intimate relations between a supervisor and a subordinate, someone else in the department may feel that the subordinate is getting preferential treatment, and that may be sexual discrimination. Supervisors should carefully consider all of the people affected by their decision to date an employee.

How to Compliment Co-Workers without a Violation

Co-workers are often fearful of complimenting one another for fear their comments will be construed as sexual harassment. Compliments by themselves are not illegal, but if the compliments focus on appearance more than on quality of work, there may be a problem. This is especially true for supervisors, who may jeopardize their position if they are inappropriate or offensive, or even if they do not take timely steps to stop harassment among employees.

Should All Sexually Oriented Conversation Be Banned in the Workplace?

To expect that people who work together aren't going to flirt, joke and even date is unrealistic. Likewise, to tell people that they can only talk about business-related matters is probably an unattainable goal. A good general rule is to be sensitive to the reactions of others and honor their request to avoid any sexual behavior or discussion that might be offensive.

What Behavior Is Considered Sexual Harassment?

Certain types of behavior are considered minor and thus can be brushed off unless the behavior is a recurring one:

Other types of behavior are much more severe and thus should be addressed immediately:

Should an Employee Be Terminated for Sexual Harassment?

If an employee complains about sexual harassment, make a full investigation as soon possible. If you discover sexual harassment, make a full investigation as soon as possible. Until you conclude a full investigation, avoid making any official actions.

The only exception is if one person hits, rapes, or attempts to hit or rape another person. In that case, call the police.

If you punish an employee too soon and without an accurate picture of the situation, you could face retaliation lawsuit. Employers should be forewarned that retaliation suits are much easier to prove than regular discrimination lawsuits.

Separate the employees in question, but make sure the separation is not inconvenient to their current job performance. Make sure you determine exactly who the harasser is before punishing anyone.

What Kind of Dating Policy Is Appropriate?

Employers should create an explicit dating policy to avoid legal headaches down the road. The policies most often used are:

Do I Need an Employment Attorney?

Sexual harassment is a very serious issue. Harassment not only affects worker morale but may turn into a costly and lengthy legal battle. Consult an employment attorney immediately if sexual harassment is becoming a problem in your workplace.

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Last Modified: 10-09-2014 12:55 PM PDT

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