The allegations against movie production giant, Harvey Weinstein, have sent ripples across Hollywood and throughout. In the weeks since the New York Times initially published their account of Weinstein’s egregious behavior, waves of workplace sexual harassment allegations have crested against other power players.
The issue of sexual harassment is now becoming a hot topic for many employers as they are revisiting their own policies and examining what they can do to protect their employees and their workplace against sexual harassment.
What is sexual harassment?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 defines sexual harassment as a form of sexual discrimination and prohibits it in the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which handles Title VII claims, defines sexual harassment as:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Questions for employers
Employers looking to protect employees from sexual harassment must start by examining their own policies. Employers should ask themselves:
- Is there a sexual harassment policy at work?
- Is it clear? Is it posted?
- Have all employees been given thorough training on the policy
- Does the company have a plan in place for handling sexual harassment claims?
- What should an employee do if they feel they are being harassed at work?
- How should employers respond?
Responding appropriately to sexual harassment claims
Employees and employers are both responsible for taking action when harassment occurs. Employees have a duty to report sexual harassment. Employers are responsible for investigating any report of harassment and taking appropriate action to address it.
Title VII sexual harassment claims can be very complex. Employers who have questions about the strength of their own workplace policies should consult with an employment law attorney who is skilled in handling sexual harassment discrimination claims.