Cook Brown trains and counsels employers in the prevention and handling of sexual harassment matters. Our AB 1825 Harassment Training ensures that a foundation is established to minimize the risk of sexual harassment claims and that companies stay on track with compliance. When harassment claims are made, our attorneys work with employers to carefully manage the situation, get to the truth, and work toward the most effective resolution for all parties.
Recent news reports reflect heightened awareness of sexual harassment both at work and at off-site work functions. As a consequence, California employers are likely to see an uptick in complaints. Is your workplace ready to respond? A common sense, step-by-step approach is key. Remember:
- Do not rush to judgment. This is important for all parties concerned – the complainant, the accused, and the employer.
- Take all complaints, and even rumors of complaints, seriously. Responding to a complaint takes time. Give the issue top priority.
- Treat the complainant with respect and listen carefully.
- Take notes while meeting with the complainant about his or her concerns.
- At the conclusion of the meeting, educate the complainant about the company’s plan to follow up and resolve the problem. Take interim steps to prevent further harassment.
- Carefully document the initial and all follow up meetings.
- Meet with the accused and educate him or her about the company’s response plan.
- If necessary, (i.e., where the facts are in dispute), consider a third-party investigation to ensure neutrality and help prevent further claims.
And better yet, before a crisis unfolds, take the time to focus on prevention and policies.
Follow these guidelines to prevent workplace sexual harassment:
- Review your written workplace policies. Have you adopted a policy against harassment based upon gender and other protected categories? Does the policy include a code of conduct requiring mutual respect and professional conduct at work? Does the policy empower employees to confront alleged harassers and to insist on professionalism and mutual respect? Does the policy give examples of prohibited sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexual advances, denigrating and disparaging remarks based upon gender, inappropriate email, texts or other communications?
- Your workplace policies should include a user friendly complaint mechanism. Employees should know how to complain and to whom complaints should be submitted. Give employees options so they are not forced to complain to a supervisor or manager they do not trust, or one who is unavailable or unsympathetic.
- Your workplace policies should include a step by step procedure for addressing a harassment complaint. It is impossible to develop and train on those procedures when confronted with a serious accusation of ongoing harassment. Make sure those policies and practices are in place before a problem occurs.
- Where the perpetrator of the alleged harassment admits the subject conduct, impose measures necessary to stop the harassment and prevent it from recurring. That might mean additional training, a suspension, a demotion or a termination.
- Where the alleged perpetrator denies the subject conduct, conduct an investigation. Depending upon the circumstances, it may be best to retain a third party to conduct the investigation. Whoever conducts the investigation should be and appear to be trained, impartial and professional. Ensure the alleged harassment stops during the course of the investigation. This may require placing the alleged perpetrator on leave.
- If the investigator finds that harassment more likely than not occurred, impose reasonable discipline. Report back to the complainant about the steps taken to protect him or her from further harassment.
- Prevent retaliation. At every opportunity, educate supervisors and managers that the complainant should not suffer any adverse actions for raising a complaint.
If you need help with a sexual harassment issue or policy, please contact us.