In an earlier post, I discussed what employees should do if they are being sexually harassed. Among other things, employees should tell the harasser to stop, and if that doesn’t work, they should report the harassment to appropriate persons at work (i.e. human resource department, supervisor, or upper management).
Once reported, California law requires employers to investigate the harassment, stop the harassment, and take effective actions to prevent further harassment.
EMPLOYERS MUST INVESTIGATE SEXUAL HARASSMENT COMPLAINTS
Employers must investigate all sexual harassment complaints. The investigation must be thorough and objective. As part of the investigation, employers should interview everyone with information regarding the harassment. Once the investigation is over, the employer should discuss the results with the employee who reported the harassment, the harasser, and all other appropriate persons.
EMPLOYERS MUST STOP THE HARASSMENT AND CORRECT ANY DAMAGES
If the investigation reveals that an employee was sexually harassed, the employer must stop the harassment. This may involve suspending, re-assigning, demoting, or terminating the harasser. Whatever actions are taken to stop the harassment, California law requires those actions to be effective.
- If a harasser sexually harassed a co-worker by walking around the office holding a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition magazine and commenting about how “hot” the models looked (e.g. “I bet you could fill out that bathing suit nicely”), it may be sufficient for the company to verbally reprimand the harasser.
- But if the harasser also smacked an employee’s derrière and told the employee that she had a “swimsuit model’s butt,” then a verbal reprimand likely is not enough to ensure that the harassment will stop, particularly if the harasser has a history of engaging in similar conduct.
The employer also must tell the employee what actions were taken to stop the harassment and correct any damages from the harassment.
- If your supervisor persistently tries to massage your shoulders and then demotes you for rejecting the massages, your employer must restore your position, compensate you for any lost wages and benefits flowing from the demotion, and basically fix any damages the harasser caused.
EMPLOYERS MUST PREVENT FURTHER HARASSMENT
Employers must take steps to prevent sexual harassment. First, employers must have procedures for employees to report sexual harassment. Second, employers must have policies that essentially condemn all forms of sexual harassment and disclose the consequences for engaging in sexual harassment. The consequences should include termination. And third, employers who do business in California and employ at least 50 or more employees mustprovide at least two hours of sexual harassment training every two years to each supervisory employee and to all new supervisory employees within six months from when they assumed their supervisory position.
This is only a brief discussion on sexual harassment laws and issues. If you think you are being sexually harassed, consult an attorney. Should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.