Human Resources

Sexual Harassment: a primer for small employers

As everyone who has not been on a deserted island for the past month knows, there has been somewhat of an explosion in reported cases of sexual harassment of late. Many of these involve Hollywood entertainers, but the scope seems to be growing past the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and employers will almost surely see an increase in complaints, discrimination charges, and lawsuits.

So, what are the basic fundamentals that a small employer needs to know?

• Sexual harassment is prohibited under state and federal law as a form of discrimination on the basis of sex.
• Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law, and applies to employers with 15 or more employees. State laws often apply to employers with fewer employees (8 in Kentucky for example). Significant monetary damages are available to employees for violations.
• Both the victim and harasser can be either female or male, and the victim and harasser can be of the same sex.
• An employer can be liable for harassment by a supervisor, coworker, or even third party.
• Employers have the obligation to prevent and correct harassment by: having and distributing a written policy prohibiting harassment, and setting forth procedures for making complaints; promptly investigating any complaints of harassment; and taking immediate measures to stop any harassment, and prevent it from reoccurring.

This is a somewhat complex area of discrimination law, and the above is only a thumbnail outline of an employer’s responsibilities. Our experts can assist small employers with policies and compliance.