by Amy DeLuca, Esq.
Recently, the news has been filled with stories about sexual harassment allegations. As more people are coming forward and the #MeToo Movement is gaining momentum, this will only increase. While the stories we see in the headlines have focused on celebrities and politicians, sexual harassment is not something unique to the rich and famous. It can, and unfortunately does, happen anywhere. Employers have an obligation to prohibit sexual harassment by their employees and to protect employees from such harassment. Employers would be wise to take a few steps to evaluate their sexual harassment policies now, before they are faced with an allegation. Below are a few simple questions to assist you with this evaluation:
Do you have a sexual harassment policy?
If not, you need one immediately. The lack of a sexual harassment policy not only fails to provide employees with information to protect them, but also eliminates a line of defenses for the employer. Employers should include a written sexual harassment policy and reporting procedure in their employee handbook or policy manual and every employee should be given a copy and acknowledge receipt.
If you do have a sexual harassment policy, when was the last time it was updated and when did you last conduct an employee training on the policy?
Simply having the policy in a handbook nobody looks at is not enough. Courts have faulted employers for not conducting annual trainings to keep employees informed of the sexual harassment policy, educated on prohibited conduct, and aware of how to report harassment.
Do you have an action plan in place if sexual harassment is reported?
On occasion, employers have a sexual harassment policy and conduct routine training, but have no idea what to do when sexual harassment is reported. In sexual harassment cases, it is not unusual for the court to look at the actions of the employer after the harassment was reported. Do you know how to conduct an appropriate investigation? Should you move the accuser or the accused? What is appropriate disciplinary action? Are reports of harassment kept confidential? Should they be? These are all questions employers should be asking as they evaluate their sexual harassment policies.
Now (and on a regular basis) is a great time to review your sexual harassment policies and practices, update them as needed and schedule your training on the policies for the first quarter of 2018. Protect yourself and your employees.