Posted on Jan 9, 2018

The recent spate of sexual harassment accusations in Hollywood and in companies all over the country should serve as a reminder to employers about their legal risks and responsibilities when it comes to the workplace environment. Besides negative publicity and a damaged reputation, employers can be subject to costly lawsuits if they fail to implement and follow policies and procedures related to sexual harassment. In addition, some states, such as Connecticut and Maine, require training for managers and supervisors. Is your company in compliance with state-mandated training requirements?

Sexual harassment is considered a civil rights violation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and is applicable to any employer with 15 or more employees. In addition, the states that mandate training have specific timelines and requirements. In Connecticut, for instance, employers with fifty (50) or more employees must provide two hours of training and education to all supervisors within 6 months of their assumption of a supervisory position. This training and education “shall be conducted in a classroom-like setting….in a format that allows participants to ask questions and receive answers.” The training curriculum must review state and federal sexual harassment laws, the definition of sexual harassment, various types of misconduct and penalties for harassers, remedies available to victims, and prevention strategies. E-learning will satisfy this training requirement as long as attendees can ask questions and obtain answers in a prompt manner. In Maine, both supervisors and employees must receive training within one year of employment.

Sexual harassment can exist in all types of businesses, large and small. The following best practices are also the best defense against sexual harassment incidents and claims:

  • A strong, comprehensive policy, signed by all employees, that addresses how sexual harassment is defined, the type of conduct that is prohibited and clear complaint resolution procedures.
  • A zero tolerance for sexual harassment, modeled by managers and supervisors. Companies that condone sexual harassment are at high risk for legal problems. HR, managers and supervisors play a critical role in identifying harassment, investigating complaints, taking corrective action, and enforcing company policies.
  • Sexual harassment prevention training. Even in states that do not mandate training, consider educational programs for supervisors and employees on prevention of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.
  • Maintaining records in the HR Department regarding employee participation in training, the dates and type of training received, etc.

In the long run, a proactive stance will serve a company well. It is often less expensive to develop and implement a comprehensive sexual harassment policy, foster a zero-tolerance attitude toward harassment, and adequately train employees than to defend against one harassment lawsuit, even if the company is not proven to be at fault. 

This material is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended as authoritative guidance, legal advice, or assurance of compliance with state and federal regulations.

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