Employers are responsible for the type of environment they cultivate and allow in their workplaces. Employees who suffer negative consequences as the result of a hostile environment, illegal treatment or inappropriate behavior could take legal action against their employer. As a business owner or personnel manager, it is in your interests to establish and maintain a company culture that is healthy and safe for all employees.
The prevention of sexual harassment is a critical aspect of creating the right type of company environment. Verbal or physical harassment of any kind have no place in a professional setting, and the most effective way to combat this behavior is to prevent it altogether. Taking steps to prevent sexual harassment can protect your California company from costly litigation and legal complications that may affect your operations, reputation and profitability.
In California, Unlawful Harassment by a Supervisor is Imputed to the Employer as a Form of Strict Liability
Not only can a supervisor who engages in sexual harassment be named as an individual defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit, it is a virtual certainty that it will occur. Equally alarming is that such misconduct, if proven, creates a form of strict liability for the employer. Your company can and will be named as a co-defendant; can and will be held accountable for acts of harassment committed by a rogue supervisor, even though it occurs without your knowledge or consent. This encourages plaintiff’s counsel to pursue a full range of legal and equitable remedies, including punitive damages against not just the supervisor, but also against the Employer who otherwise is not responsible for the supervisor’s unlawful behavior.
Preventing It Before It Happens
Stopping sexual harassment before it starts requires a careful consideration of two critical factors, proper training and appropriate workplace culture. Workplaces with significantly more men than women at every level of company operations are more likely to have reported instances of sexual harassment. Companies should also have clear, reasonable and discreet systems in place for reporting harassment complaints. Centering your workplace culture around fairness, safety and the dignified treatment of each employee can reduce harassment complaints.
Proper training is another crucial aspect of reducing sexual harassment in the workplace. Employees should receive regular training on appropriate actions, physical contact, sensitivity and reporting processes. You will also want to ensure that each employee understands company policies, how to report harassment and expectations for the behavior of those with whom they work, including managers and those in positions of authority. Effective training makes it less likely that harassment will occur, protecting both the rights of your employees and your business interests.
Where should you start?
Companies facing litigation over the issue of a sexual harassment complaint may find that this is an expensive and complex matter to resolve. In these situations, the reputation of your business is at stake as well, and quick action is necessary to develop the most effective strategy by which you can resolve the matter in a satisfactory manner. However, prevention of sexual harassment is most important, a step that will benefit your employees and the health of your company.