Q&A that Applies to Sexual Harassment in Small Business Environments
If you are a small business owner, you may wonder how to protect your small business from sexual harassment and resulting claims that put your business at risk.
Here are some questions and answers (Q&A) that are a good place to start when dealing with sexual harassment.
This Q&A relates to harassment by supervisors:
Who is considered a supervisor?
Any individual who has the authority to recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee is a supervisor. Tangible employment decisions include significant employment actions that change an employee’s status, such as:
- Work assignment
- Undesirable reassignment
- Significant benefits changes
- Compensation decisions
When are employers liable for a supervisor’s sexual harassment?
Whenever a supervisor engages in harassment that results in a tangible employment action, the employers are always liable. When no tangible employment action occurs, employers are still liable unless they can show the following:
- They took reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct sexual harassment.
- The employee reasonably failed to complain to management or failed to otherwise avoid harm.
What steps should employers take to prevent and correct sexual harassment?
Employers need to establish policy that prohibits harassment, put it in writing and pass it out to all employers.
Employers should create procedures for making complaints and notify employees.
When a business is sufficiently small that the owner is regularly in contact with all employees, the employer does not have to put policies in writing. Employers can tell employees at staff meetings that harassment is not allowed, that employees should report harassment immediately and they can even report incidents of harassment directly to the owner.
The business should conduct a prompt investigation when harassment is reported.
When sexual harassment is discovered, the discipline for the offending employee should be comparable to the extent and type of harassment.
As much as possible, the employer should keep the harassed employee’s identity confidential. Otherwise, if the offender retaliates against the reporting employee, the company could be held liable for the retaliation.
(This Q&A applies to all types of harassment, not just sexual harassment and more information is available in the EEOC article, Questions and Answers for Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors ).
Are You Dealing with Sexual Harassment Issues in Your Business?
Stephen Hans & Associates can offer valuable legal assistance to help you protect your business. Our attorneys have more than 20 years of experience defending employers.