The worst nightmare of any executive of a mid- to large-sized business entity is having to defend the company against an employee’s sexual harassment suit. Whether the harassment came at the hands of a fellow employee or a supervisor, the company is often liable for the harassment, and often has to pay a tremendous amount to settle the claim. That’s why it’s essential that you take proactive steps now, before any sexual harassment in your company occurs, so that you can both lower the chances of sexual harassment and shield your company from liability if it does occur.
Establishing a policy
The Supreme Court of the United States has decided two important cases regarding employer liability for employee sexual harassment. Known as the Ellerth and Faragher cases, these cases outline what a company has to do in order to be able to prove in court that it is not liable for the actions of its employee.
First, your company must make reasonably thorough efforts to establish anti-harassment workplace policies, and to train all employees on these policies. This requirement can be satisfied by posting company policy on sexual harassment in a conspicuous place where employees will see it on a regular basis – such as in the break room – and holding periodic trainings on the policy.
Making opportunities available to employees
You should also train your human resources department on the proper protocol for dealing with employee reports of sexual harassment. Make sure that you can prove to the court that every employee in your company is aware of a specific process that they can take advantage of if they ever do suffer harassment in the workplace.
This is essential, because the second element of the Ellerth and Faragher employer defense is that the employee failed to utilize the resources available to them to address their sexual harassment situation.
There is no silver bullet that can guarantee that your company will never be hauled into court for a sexual harassment suit. But by establishing the correct policies and making opportunities for reporting that employees can avail themselves of, you can decrease the likelihood of a harassment incident – and protect your company from liability if one does occur.