Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The legal definition of sexual harassment in California is relatively broad, and includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment, and actions that subject employees to a hostile work environment.
As an employer, may never be able to completely prevent your employees from taking particular actions, but you can put policies and procedures in place to address the challenging topic of sexual harassment head on. Here are three steps you can take in your business to help prevent sexual harassment at your company:
1. Set Forth your Company Policies in an Employee Handbook
Your Employee Handbook the place where you want to lay out your company policy as it relates to sexual harassment. In your policy, you should be sure to define what sexual harassment is and how situations of sexual harassment will be handled in your workplace. One of the most important items in your policy letting the employee know who within the company they should report experiences of sexual harassment to. It is recommended you have multiple routes for reporting to ensure your employee is able to share this information with someone they feel comfortable speaking with, but also that no reports of sexual harassment are missed by being reported to someone who does not have the proper training to escalate the report. For example, your policy could require that all cases of sexual harassment be reported to the Human Resources Manager, but if the Human Resources Manager is unavailable, or they do not feel comfortable speaking to them, they may report to any Supervisor at the company.
2. Hold Training Sessions with your Employees
While sexual harassment training is not legally required until your company reaches a particular size, it is a best practice to hold an annual sexual harassment training with your employees. This training should educate your employees on the definition of sexual harassment (it’s broader than most people think!) and reiterate your company policies on sexual harassment as set forth in your Employee Handbook. In these training sessions it is always helpful to provide hypothetical scenarios and discuss how actions by an employee would or would not be considered sexual harassment. Presenting hypothetical scenarios helps to bring a rather difficult topic to talk about to life. Make sure you are taking attendance and recording which employees are attending the annual training and holding any make up trainings as needed.
3. Clearly Define how you Investigate Claims of Sexual Harassment
Hopefully you will never have an employee experience sexual harassment at your company, but if you do, want to have a clear policy in place as to how you will follow up with and investigate reports. This policy should be outlined in your Employee Handbook. The key step is taking action on reports of sexual harassment. This means that if an individual makes a report of sexual harassment you need immediately follow up on the report and investigate– the problem will certainly not go away by avoiding addressing it! As you are following your investigative procedure you should be sure to document the steps you are taking to investigate and mitigate any future issues.
At DuFord Law, our firm provides assistance to San Diego business owners. Because California employment law is frequently changing, it is important that your business partner with a San Diego attorney in the preparation of an Employee Handbook to address issues like sexual harassment.