Six Tips on Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work

By all accounts, Harvey Weinstein left a trail of sexual harassment, assault, and rape a mile and decades wide before being fired by his company’s board of directors. And by many accounts, Weinstein’s behavior, while abhorrent, is not unique in corporate culture. So what lessons can small business owners take from the scandal that the Weinstein Company board of directors may have missed? Here are a few:

1. Sexual Harassment Claims and Small Business Liability

By now, you should be well aware that even one sexual harassment lawsuit is one too many, both for your small business’s brand and its bottom line.

2. How to Prevent Sexual Harassment at Work

The best way to deal with sexual harassment claims is to create a workplace where sexual harassment doesn’t occur in the first place. Craft a strong anti-harassment policy. Your comprehensive employee anti-harassment policy should include sections about discrimination and harassment, the process for reporting harassment, and the disciplinary measures for harassment. Have workers and managers sign off on it after they’ve read it. Address sexual harassment complaints immediately. It’s important to take swift action to investigate and address harassment claims. Beyond avoiding or limiting your liability, taking prompt action sends a strong message to your employees that you take harassment claims very seriously.

3. What Employers Need to Know to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Virtual Workplace

Sexual harassment doesn’t just happen in the office. With so many communication and productivity technology advancements allowing remote work and virtual offices, sexual harassment has also spread. Thankfully, for employers, much of the communication between co-workers in virtual office environments will be via e-mail, or some form of written chat. If an employer uses the right hardware or software, they will be able to more closely monitor employee communications. Employers should be mindful that active monitoring of employee communications can lead to distrust among workers towards management. However, reviewing an employee’s communications after an incident can quickly corroborate a complaint and allow swift action to be taken. In lieu of having the eyes and ears of nearby co-workers to corroborate complaints as you might in a normal office environment, a virtual office can rely on the electronic record.

4. How to Avoid Office Party Sexual Harassment

Alcohol has been dubbed a social lubricant. Unfortunately, it can also bring out some anti-social behavior. And booze is just one or the potential pitfalls at the annual office party. Be aware of the potential for alcohol-induced problems ranging from inappropriate comments to even more inappropriate behavior. To begin, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Giving out drink tickets (which serves to limit the number of drinks a given employee puts back) is a viable option. It’s especially difficult to monitor employees off-work conduct when the holiday celebration consistently ends up with more drinking at a local bar. The sad reality of this is that legal responsibility does not end when the party does. Awareness of the increased potential for a problem is crucial. A prompt investigation of any complaints relating to the party is also advisable for any issues stemming from a little too much holiday office cheer.

5. Are Businesses Liable for Sexual Harassment by Customers?

Preventing sexual harassment at work means protecting employees, and in some cases you may have to protect them from customers. Sexual harassment is not confined to employees, and non-employees can be harassers. Employers are responsible for maintaining a non-hostile work environment and can be legally liable for not responding or intervening when employees are being harassed by customers.

6. Things Not to Do After a Sexual Harassment Complaint

Sometimes the best way to learn how to respond to a sexual harassment claim is to learn how not to respond to one. Do not fire an employee after he or she complains about sexual harassment can potentially be considered unlawful retaliation. Do not ignore the complaint. Do not wait to handle it in court. Even a claim that you feel may be baseless can take up a significant amount of time and money. Do not wrongfully discipline employees. Although a vigorous response to sexual harassment claims is a must, don’t go overboard by rushing to judgement and disciplining employees who may have done nothing wrong. Avoid contacting an attorney. Many business owners, whether due to optimism or frugality, hesitate to contact an attorney when a sexual harassment complaint arises. But keep in mind that many employment law attorneys focus exclusively workplace issues and may be able to help to avoid a lawsuit or mitigate any potential liability before it’s too late.

[This article has been modified, from an original article posted by Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 11, 2017]

Interesting Lawsuit of the Month- Woman Follows Google Maps “Walking” Directions, Gets Hit, Sues

Is Google responsible for giving out bad directions through its Google Maps service? After Googling walking directions for a trip in Park City, Utah, Lauren Rosenberg claims she was led onto a busy highway, where she was struck by a vehicle. She’s now suing Google for damages.

According to the suit, Both the driver of the car who hit Rosenberg and Google is being sued in the same case, for damages “in excess of $100,000.”

Rosenberg used Google Maps via her Blackberry, to get directions between 96 Daly Street, Park City, Utah and 1710 Prospector Avenue, Park City, Utah. Google provided these, telling her as part of the route to walk for about 1/2 mile along “Deer Valley Drive” a highway that lacks sidewalks, the case says. Rosenberg wasn’t warned about this, therefore as she claims puts Google directly at fault in the accident when she was struck by a car.

Seriously? We can’t wait until Ms. Rosenberg tries to use Google to travel overseas.

Quote of the Month

“You can’t do a good job if your job is all you do.” -Katie Thurmes, Artifact Uprising Co-founder