Sexual harassment is any sexual conduct or advance in the workplace that makes someone feel intimidated or creates an offensive, uncomfortable, hostile working environment. Business owners can face with sexual harassment lawsuits stemming from employee actions as well as their own. Employers should be especially concerned with protecting their personal financial futures and wealth from employee related workplace incidents.
Sexual harassers can be male or female and statistics show that same-sex harassment on the job is growing as well. This is a very sensitive legal arena that can become quicksand for managers and business owners. Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination. Thus, it is a violation of federal law, as well as state and local laws.
Common Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
The two most common drivers of sexual harassment lawsuits are as follows. For instance, laws forbid a manager to makes advances or demonstrates elicit conduct to a subordinate; especially if that affects decisions related to that employee. This comes in the form of blackmail. For example, a person of authority makes an unwelcome advance. Then, the supervisor offers the subordinate employee benefits or opportunities based on their response. On the contrary, let’s suppose a subordinate employee rejects an unwelcome advance and the boss negative conditions in the workplace. This, consequently, makes for a contrasting sexual harassment hot point.
The wildcard harassment type is hostile environment harassment. This refers to unwelcome advances, conduct or behaviors that create and uncomfortable work environments; notably if it affect an employee’s work performance. These occurs from any type of physical conduct. Additionally, it includes suggestive sexual comments or gestures, elicit jokes, pornography or other abusive behavior in the workplace. This doesn’t necessarily mean that conduct has to be overtly sexual in nature to qualify as discriminatory and unlawful.
Proving a hostile work environment requires some checks which include the conduct’s severity and frequency. Was it was merely offensive? Humiliating? Physically threatening? Was the offender a supervisor or co-worker? Did the harassment affect the employee’s job performance? Courts generally require a pattern of harassing conduct rather than a one-time incident to justify a hostile working environment charge.
The US Supreme Court has established certain parameters. These measuring sticks determine when the law holds the employer responsible for the actions of its employees. If the workplace conduct results in an employee losing his or her job, impeding advancement / promotion or being reassigned, employers will be held responsible.
When there is no tangible actions, employers can avoid liability if they implemented preventative measures; especially if the employee failed to take advantage of corrective opportunities. This comes in the form of a sexual harassment policy and policy training. The employer should also implement prompt and thorough complaint investigation procedures.
Asset Protection from Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
A business owner cannot control the words out of every employee’s mouth and every unwelcome gesture every time. So, the only sleep at night peace-of-mind protection you will find comes in the form of a personal asset protection plan; one that shields your wealth from future creditors and lawsuits. We offer end-to-end asset protection planning, strategies. This includes forming legal tools to prevent an employee lawsuit from jeopardizing your financial future.
How to Avoid Sexual Harassment Liability
So, how does the law determine whether or not the employer can be held liable for sexual harassment allegations? Well, it will largely depend on how the employer responds to it. We have prepared a list of things a manager must do in the event of a harassment complaint.
Involve another manager
As a manager it’s pertinent that you inform senior management. Let HR know that you have received a sexual harassment allegation. So, invite another manager or superior as well as human resources to the meeting with the employee.
Use neutral language
When speaking about an allegation, do not volunteer any legal labels. Do not say things such as “that’s harassment” when listening to a complaint, for example. Use terms like “conduct” and when referring to the offender, use their name, avoid such terms as the “harasser.”
Do not amplify the complaint
Prior to any investigation remain neutral especially with your language choices. As a manager it’s important to take a complaint serious and be empathetic. You can do this without complicating the situation. Use supportive language such as “I know this is difficult and thank you for bringing it to my attention…” Make sure that a manager does not suggest that a complaint is true/false through his words. For example, don’t say “if that’s true, it’s really bad.” If said, the offending employee could suggest that the complainant is lying or the statement isn’t entirely true.
Do not touch the complainant
It might seem like a good idea to offer support or console a person who is upset about being offended. A simple hug or hand on an arm could land you in a defendant’s status in a harassment lawsuit.
Avoid jokes or humor
Defusing the situation with a light joke or humor is a common mistake. Treat the complaint like a serious situation and respond with professionalism.
Don’t make it about you or your time
There’s no good time to volley a complaint. Simply mentioning that your schedule is already busy or that you don’t have time at the moment is a natural individual response. However, it could be an amplifier when trying to minimize exposure to employer liability.
Don’t deny harassment in the complaint
When listening to a complaint, it may seem obvious to you that the allegation does not sound like harassment. However, your place is to listen and report, not to talk, advise or offer your opinion.
Do not suggest blame
If an employee is reporting misconduct in the workplace, do not ask or suggest that the complainant “asked for it” or was participating willfully during the incident or it could land you in hot water as well.
Stay with the complaint
Do not encourage the employee to talk with someone else or pursue individual action through the police or a government agency. An employee could feel as though no one took them seriously or nobody cared to listen. This could make resolution more difficult.
Promote correct action
Do not ask if the complainant talked with the offender first, take the time to listen and treat the situation with dignity and respect.
Anytime an employee reports or complains of harassment in the workplace, you must respond seriously and professionally. Following these simple things can help lower the employer liability of workplace incidents.
What Employers Need to Know
Your first line of defense is preventative management actions. HR policies, training, employee agreements and a clearly defined process for resolution are things that every employer should maintain.
Employees now sue more often now than ever. They win more lawsuits and receive larger settlement awards. A myriad of factors contribute to this changing statistic. Today’s economic conditions make losing a job a much bigger deal than before. Attorneys know this and take this initiative when marketing to employees claiming big payouts with no cost and zero risk. No employer wants to be locked into litigation and take on the stress of a lawsuit. As a result, attorneys often leverage this aggravation in order to make quick settlements.
Pressure to Settle
There are “quick grab” rackets that happen with employee liability lawsuits. Typically an employer will receive a demand letter threatening a civil and/or EEOC action that can result in several hundred thousand dollars in damages. The same letter will have an immediate settlement offer if paid immediately. Figures that are thrown around suggest that the average judgment for sexual harassment verdict is over $500,000. Immediate settlement amount offers hover around $25,000 – $30,000.
The immediate settlement offer might appear attractive to avoid costly litigation. With the defense of a civil or EEOC claim, even in the event of no wrongdoing, employers can feel forced into resolutions. Knowing that legal fees can easily topple six figures, the choice of avoiding the stress and financial uncertainty becomes priority.
We have seen legal situations go haywire from lack of HR planning, and management practices. Moreover, employers with exposed assets often come under fire from civil suits. Asset protection strategies only works if you choose to properly implement a protection plan that safeguards your wealth from lawsuits and creditors. Plus, use the suggestions above and you will be much more prepared for a sexual harassment lawsuit.