Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Is it Time to Review?

December 04, 2017  |   Posted by :   |   YPHR Blog

The space between between HR and employment law can be a murky shade of gray.  And that’s where our Legal Advisor, Jennifer Corso, comes in.  Jennifer is always ready to assist the Partners of YPHR and our clients when HR turns legal.

With all the talk of sexual harassment in the workplace over the last few months, many employers are concerned about harassment claims at their own business.  Not only does workplace harassment have a significant negative impact on employees affected, but any lawsuits filed in response to harassing behavior can be costly – they cause morale issues in the workplace, take time and resources away from key personnel to respond to the lawsuit, and cost the employer in defense costs and possible adverse judgments.  Taking a few key steps to prevent harassment from occurring in the first place, thus preventing harassment claims, is essential for every employer. 

Over the last 20 years, the courts have laid out specific criteria for what they consider to be reasonable efforts to prevent harassment.  This includes having a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that both provides for multiple reporting procedures (so the employee can bypass a harassing supervisor) and requires supervisors to report up any complaints of harassment.  Employers should not over-complicate the policy by requiring strict formal reporting process (i.e. only accepting written reports).  Another important part of showing that an employer has taken reasonable steps to prevent harassment is training all employees on the policy, and training supervisors on how to respond to and investigate harassment complaints.  Anti-retaliation provisions should also be stressed in the written policy and as part of the training.  In addition to taking reasonable steps to prevent harassment, employers must promptly and effectively respond to and remedy any complaints of harassment.

 These steps form the basis for an affirmative defense to harassment claims.  This means that if a harassment claim does arise, an employer may be able to reduce – or altogether avoid – legal liability if they can show they followed these simple steps.

 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also provided guidance to what constitutes “reasonable” efforts to prevent sexual harassment.  The EEOC recommends “periodic” training, which has been interpreted as being at least on an annual basis.

 With sexual harassment being in the forefront in the news, this is a good time for employers to review (or establish) their sexual harassment policy, making sure it meets the above criteria.  Employee and supervisor training should also be scheduled.  All complaints should be taken seriously and investigated, and measures taken to provide effective remedy where warranted.  Above all, any workplace should strive to maintain an environment where employees feel comfortable coming forward with any type of complaint, without fear of retaliation.  Open dialog and fostering a culture of respect are the best ways to avoid harassment from occurring, which is the best defense of them all.

 We are a trusted partner to help people and organizations meet their goals. For more information regarding sexual harassment training or establishing a code of of civil behavior please contact YPHR. Also, we can help update or re-write your current handbook, and our legal advisor, Jennifer Corso, would be happy to review it with you to be sure you are compliant with the most recent legal updates.

Jennifer_Corso_50817 - RJennifer Corso has served on many professional boards, including the Ohio Women’s Bar Association, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), and Bad Girl Ventures.  She is currently a board member for the Heights Hillcrest Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Jennifer has been named both a “Super Lawyer” (2015, 2016, 2017) and a “Rising Star Super Lawyer” (2005) by Ohio Super Lawyers Magazine, which identifies outstanding Ohio lawyers who have demonstrated superior professional achievement.  Jennifer has traveled to over 30 countries.  Jennifer is a lifelong admirer of vintage cars, and enjoys the summer months tooling around in her 1953 MG. 

Jennifer believes in preventing employee claims before they happen, and advocates for fair and consistent enforcement of employment policies.  As she always says, “Happy employees don’t sue you!


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