Sexual Harassment Claims Constitute Almost 30% of 2014 EEOC Charges

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released its Fiscal Year 2014 Enforcement and Litigation Data, which states that sex discrimination (this includes pregnancy and sexual harassment) constituted almost 30% of the charges filed with the EEOC in 2014. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government. State law also provides protection. For example, in California sexual harassment is prohibited by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which applies to employers with five or more employees. Because sexual harassment claims can result in significant liability for employers, it is important to implement preventative measures in the workplace including:

  • Creation of a strong anti-harassment policy
  • Training for each employee on its contents
  • Training for managers and supervisors on its contents
  • Vigorous adherence to, and enforcement of, the policy

Note: In California, employers must also ensure that managers and supervisors receive the required AB 1825 sexual harassment training, which now includes training on “abusive conduct.”

An anti-harassment policy should include:

  • A clear explanation of prohibited conduct, with examples
  • Clear assurance that employees who make complaints or provide information related to complaints will be protected against retaliation
  • A clearly described complaint process that provides multiple, accessible avenues of complaint
  • Assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible
  • A complaint process that provides a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation
  • Assurance that the employer will take immediate and appropriate corrective action when it determines that harassment has occurred

An important part of an employer’s anti-harassment policy is the complaint process. However, some employees may be reluctant to make a harassment complaint for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Fear of retaliation by the employer or accused
  • Fear of repercussions from co-workers
  • Fear for what may happen to the accused

One tool that employers should thus consider is establishment of an anonymous reporting hotline for employees through an outside reporting agency, which enables employees to make a complaint anonymously. Employees who fear repercussions for reporting harassment may be more inclined to report problems if there is an outside anonymous reporting service available. Because employers should be immediately advised about possible harassment occurring in the workplace, any steps taken to encourage reporting of such complaints benefits the employer, the victim, and the workplace.

In sum, as the EEOC’s enforcement data indicates, sexual harassment continues to pose a serious challenge for employers. In light of this, employers must be proactive in creating a workplace free of sexual harassment by properly training all employees, generating and enforcing anti-harassment policies, implementing effective complaint processes, and promptly and appropriately responding to all complaints of harassment.

You learn more about sexual harassment legal issues here.

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