06 Dec Training for an Anti-Harassment Culture
by Jessica N. Childress December 5, 2017
Workplaces that turn a blind-eye towards harassment, or that have employees that do not even know what harassment is, are most susceptible to being hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to the law. This is especially true when it comes to sexual harassment. All businesses, regardless of their sizes, should have an anti-harassment policy in place that addresses sexual harassment. Resources on what constitutes harassment are readily available on the internet, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and countless private organizations offer sexual harassment training programs.
In brief, sexual harassment is legally defined as follows:
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. See Facts About Sexual Harassment (https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm).
Even with this very clear definition of what constitutes sexual harassment, headlines recounting allegations of flagrant harassment indicate that organizations may not be doing a sufficient job of training their employees about what harassment is, how it should be reported, and stressing that those who report harassment will not suffer any form of retaliation. Organizations must step up their efforts to make sure that all people who enter into their workplaces feel safe. When doing a cost-benefit analysis, investing in strong anti-harassment training programs makes a lot of sense.
First, employees who feel safe in the workplace have higher morale and are more productive. Second, morally, companies should not want their employees feeling vulnerable because of a colleague. Third, companies are legally prohibited from engaging in harassing or discriminatory conduct. Finally, fostering a culture of harassment hurts organizations’ bottom lines.
Settlements for sexual harassment claims can range from the low five-figures to anywhere in the seven figures, and sometimes in the eight figures, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. Those figures do not account for the attorney’s fees organizations must pay to defend against harassment claims. This year, the EEOC reported the following settlements in sexual harassment cases:
- Settlement: $20,000
- Case summary: Defendant restaurant’s general manager and co-owner displayed sexually explicit videos and pictures to servers, discussed servers’ sex lives, and displayed shirtless photographs of himself to the servers regularly. Although the servers complained about the harassment, Defendant did not stop the harassment. (See EEOC Press Release, El Chaparro to Pay $20,000 to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment Suit, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-8-17a.cfm).
- Settlement: $57,000
- Case summary: Defendant company’s CEO asked female applicant out on a date and asked her to “party” with him after the employee had been offered a job with the company. The applicant rejected the request to go out on a date, and subsequently, the company decided not to hire her. (See EEOC Press Release, Education Company to Pay $57,000 to Settle EEOC Sex Discrimination Suit, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-8-17.cfm).
- Settlement: $50,000
- Case summary: Defendant staffing agency refused to to interview female employee or consider her for open positions, stating to her, ‘This is a man’s job,’ the job is ‘not suitable for women,’ and ‘the work is difficult.’ Defendant referred approximately 54 male applicants to the same employer that Defendant refused to refer female employee to between June and December 2012, only referring one female employee to this employer. (See EEOC Press Release, Automation Personnel Services to Pay $50,000 to Settle EEOC Lawsuit for Sex Discrimination, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-5-17b.cfm).
Would effective training have prevented the harassment alleged in the cases summarized above? No one can provide that answer, but at the very least, an effective training program could have provided the defendant companies with the defense that the company took appropriate measures to prevent harassment because of the training program that they had in place. Moreover, the training would likely have created a more educated workplace regarding harassment and underscored that workplace harassment simply is not allowed. In their 2016 Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace Report, the EEOC highlighted that anti-harassment training must be tailored to an organization’s workforce and workplace and that training must be coupled with an anti-harassment culture. An anti-harassment training program certainly does not guarantee that an organization will never face a claim of sexual harassment, but creating a culture of anti-harassment cannot be done without it.
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This publication discusses legal developments, which are intended for informational and educational purposes only. The information contained in this publication is not intended as legal advice, and it should not be constructed as legal advice.