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Seven Secrets for Keeping Your Company Out of Court in 2008 - How to Avoid Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Dec 25, 2007
Recently, there has been a huge upsurge in the number of sexual harassment lawsuits. It all started with Anita Hill's televised testimony at the Clarence Thomas Senate Confirmation hearing to become a Supreme Court Justice in 1991. Then Paula Jones' lawsuit against President Clinton and several multimillion dollar verdicts have caused a wave of litigation.

In 1998 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two important decisions that put the ball in the employer's court in sexual harassment cases. Basically, they gave employers an "affirmative defense", provided that they have a policy that makes it clear that the company does not tolerate sexual harassment. This article will briefly summarize 7 secrets to keeping your company out of court in 2008.

#1 Have a Written Sexual Harassment Policy
All employers should have a written sexual harassment policy, which at a minimum provides: what sexual harassment is; sets forth a mechanism for reporting it; states that all complaints will be promptly and thoroughly investigated; that there will be no retaliation for making the complaint; and that if a violation is found, that prompt and effective remedial action will be taken.

#2 Communicate Your Sexual Harassment Policy to All of Your Employees

It does no good to merely have a sexual harassment policy that is sitting gathering dust in the Human Resources department or in an employee handbook, the policy must be communicated to all of your employees. It should be distributed to employees at the time of hire, explained to them, and have them sign acknowledging receipt and agreeing to abide by it. It should be posted on the wall and where appropriate, translated into Spanish. It should be discussed at employee meetings.

#3 Implement Your Sexual Harassment Policy

Most importantly, your policy must be enforced and taken seriously, so that employees feel comfortable using it. It is not enough to have a policy and communicate it, if you don't implement it.

#4 Provide Training for All of Your Supervisors

Under a new law, AB 1825, California now requires all employers with 50 or more employees to provide a minimum of 2 hours of training to all of their supervisors. Connecticut has a similar law and other states are expected to follow.

While it isn't required for employers with less than 50 employees, it still is an excellent idea, since it improves employee morale by preventing problems in the first place; teaches supervisors how to nip the problem in the bud; and if an employer is ever sued the first question that they will be asked is: "what have you done to train your supervisors about sexual harassment prevention?" The employer can respond by providing the attendance sign-in sheet from the training seminar.

#5 Investigate All Complaints Promptly and Thoroughly

As soon as an employer receives a complaint, it must immediately start investigating, even if it isn't a formal written complaint. Remember, there is no such thing as an "off the record complaint". Once a supervisor finds out about a complaint, the employer is deemed to be put on notice and must start its investigation. All relevant witnesses should be interviewed and the alleged harasser should be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations made Action.

#6 Take Prompt and Effective Remedial

Once the employer completes its investigation, it should take prompt and effective remedial action. What that is depends upon the facts of the specific case and could range from a written warning, to a suspension, to termination, depending upon the circumstances. In making its determination, the employer should consider the severity of the alleged conduct, and the prior work history of the alleged harasser. The results of the investigation should always be well documented and communicated to both the complaining party and to the alleged harasser.

#7 Follow-up with the Complainant

After the investigation has been completed and remedial action, if any, taken, the employer should always follow-up with the complainant within two weeks, to make sure that the situation has been satisfactorily resolved. Don't wait for the employee to come to you to tell you that the problem has not gone away or that they are now being retaliated against for complaining, by then you may already have been sued.
About the Author
For a free evaluation of your existing sexual harassment policy or to schedule a training seminar contact Eli Kantor, Beverly Hills, CA 90212 at (310) 274-8216 or dreli173@aol.com.
Sexual Harassment Prevention
Beverly Hills Immigration Law
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