The current wave of sexual harassment claims and charges proves that sexual harassment cuts across all business sectors and every part of the economy. Do you face sexual harassment at your own job? Even if you don’t, is sexual harassment condoned by your employer? Precisely what constitutes sexual harassment? Do victims have genuinely effective legal options? If you are an employer in California or if you work anywhere in this state, you need to know.
Sexual harassment is generally defined as sexually implicit or explicit speech or behavior that is unwelcome and that offends, intimidates, or humiliates someone because of his or her gender. Sexual harassment includes a variety of behaviors ranging from an offensive email or joke to criminal sexual assault.
WHAT SHOULD EMPLOYERS UNDERSTAND ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Especially today – in 2017 – employers who insist that no sexual harassment ever occurs at their workplaces may be setting themselves up for serious legal trouble. Most employers who are accused of sexual harassment believed it would never happen to them, either. Every California employer today needs to be proactive in fighting sexual harassment. It can happen at any workplace, and that is the first thing that employers must admit and understand.
Although most mid-sized and large employers in California have established their own channels and procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints, the acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Victoria Lipnic, says that “only about thirty percent of women who experience harassment ever complain internally.”
How a business deals with a sexual harassment complaint can have a tremendous impact on the operation – now and for years to come. And the Weinstein Company, of course, is not the only business that has overlooked for years the actions of its founder, executives, or top performers. In 2016, the EEOC received nearly 27,000 sexual harassment complaints.
HOW CAN AN EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS ATTORNEY HELP?
Thousands of other sexual harassment victims take their cases directly to an experienced employment rights attorney who can file a sexual harassment lawsuit on a victim’s behalf. In California, if you are a target of sexual harassment at your own workplace, you should discuss the circumstances at once with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.
Hinging on the details and particulars of a sexual harassment complaint – including whether the claim goes to trial or is settled out-of-court – the actual costs for a company that is found liable for sexual harassment can range from $100,000 to $1,000,000 or more. And that doesn’t include the “public” costs like the loss of a company’s good reputation and its ability to attract top investors, customers, and employees.
In so many of the recent news stories about figures like Harvey Weinstein, we are told that harassment persisted for years and that “everyone knew.” For employers large and small, overlooking rumors, whispers, and the things that “everyone knows” can have severe consequences. Ignoring sexual harassment has the effect of condoning and legitimizing it, and it exacerbates the harassment victim’s injury and humiliation.
WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO?
So, in times like these, what can a company do to eliminate workplace sexual harassment and protect itself against sexual harassment accusations? First, create and implement a strong anti-sexual harassment policy. If you do not have a written policy, an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney can help. Publish and distribute the text to all employees.
If your company’s sexual harassment policy has not been revisited recently, this is the time. The written policy should include specific examples of prohibited conduct, and it should clearly spell out the consequences for employees who violate the policy. Additionally, and this is essential, the policy must provide employees with more than one way to report sexual harassment.
Why are multiple reporting options imperative? It’s simple. If there is only one way for an employee to report sexual harassment, what happens if the person designated to receive those reports is the same person committing the harassment? Without multiple reporting options, trying to report sexual harassment through internal channels could conceivably be futile.
WHEN AND HOW SHOULD INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS BE CONDUCTED?
Employers should never hesitate to investigate even a rumor of sexual harassment. There is no need to wait until a formal complaint is received. An experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney can give a California employer guidance and advice about conducting internal investigations.
By taking complaints and even rumors seriously, employers reassure their employees and demonstrate their commitment to a harassment-free workplace. Employers should act against sexual harassment when the evidence warrants taking action, and they should affirm that no one is excused from the rules.
Educate your employees. Earlier in 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 396, which will require California employers with fifty or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment training for supervisors every two years. The law takes effect on January 1, 2018. Training on sexual harassment is important, but it is not enough.
Especially today, California employers must “get ahead of the curve” and actively encourage the reporting of sexual harassment. Employers also need to demonstrate beyond a doubt that harassment complaints will be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly. No employee in California should ever have to doubt his or her employer’s commitment to basic employment rights.
WHAT SHOULD EVERY EMPLOYEE KNOW ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Employees in our state enjoy comprehensive statutory protection against sexual harassment, hiring and employment discrimination, and employer retaliation. If you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment in California, and if your employer will not act on your behalf to end the harassment, you should discuss the situation at once with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.
An employee who prevails with a sexual harassment lawsuit in California is legally entitled to complete reimbursement for lost wages, and harassment victims may also be entitled to compensation for emotional distress and legal fees. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, the law in California is on your side.
An employment rights lawyer can offer you insightful advice, and if necessary, will act on your behalf and fight for the justice – and for the compensation – that a sexual harassment victim needs and deserves. If the sexual harassment is ongoing, take action – and make the call to an attorney – now. It’s your right.