From inappropriate emails to off-the-cuff, seemingly innocuous statements to blatant sexual overtures aimed at employees by supervisors, colleagues or non-employees, workplace harassment charges continue to be among the top allegations against employers. One survey in fact reported that one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been harassed at work. Furthermore, reports show that increasingly more men are alleging sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), at work is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affect an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance; or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” For many, that definition is so broad that when it comes down to specific behaviors, some people may not realize that some of their actions fall within the definition of sexual harassment.
The Cost of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment allegations cost employers in a number of ways, including increased absenteeism. Studies show that harassment victims are more likely to miss workdays because they are either too afraid to face their harassers or because the work environment is too stressful. There is also lower productivity as a result of the harassment – when workers are feeling stressed and distracted by harassment, the quality and quantity of their work decreases. You have lower employee morale and more job turnover if the work environment is hostile.
Moreover, these allegations can be quite costly for companies when litigation is involved: On average, the cost of settling a civil sexual harassment lawsuit ranges from four to five figures – and in some cases runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars (and, of course, into the millions for large corporations).
To minimize the risk of incidents in your shop, manufacturers throughout California must have a rigorous anti-harassment workplace policy in place that defines and prevents harassing behavior. State law, in fact, requires employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring. If an employer has failed to take such preventive measures, that employer can be held liable for the harassment. A victim may be entitled to damages, even though no employment opportunity has been denied and there is no actual loss of pay or benefits.
Your harassment policy should designate a system for reporting complaints as well as let employees know that you will respond to any complaints of sexual harassment with prompt and immediate action. In addition, by law, the following provisions should be included in your policy:
- List all protected categories;
- Explain the law prohibits harassment and discrimination by supervisors, managers, coworkers, and third parties;
- Establish a complaint procedure;
- Indicate all complaints will be fairly, timely, and thoroughly investigated; all parties are accorded appropriate due process; and conclusions are based on the evidence collected;
- State the employer will keep complaints and investigations confidential to the extent possible but do not indicate investigations will be completely confidential;
- Provide appropriate remedial measures and resolutions will be taken if misconduct is found; and
- Ensure the employer will not retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation.
Within the policy, the complaint procedure must specify the following:
- Investigations will be conducted in a timely manner by an impartial qualified person;
- Appropriate options for remedial actions and resolutions;
- There will be a timely response and resolution to the investigation;
- The employer will document and track the complaint’s progress; and
- An employee may file a complaint with someone other than his or her direct supervisor (e.g. Human Resources Manager or company hotline)
In addition, you will want to:
- Post the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) employment poster (DFEH-162) in the workplace.
- Distribute an information sheet on sexual harassment to all employees.
Employers with 50 or more employees must provide at least two hours of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisory employees once every two years, and to all new supervisory employees within six months of assuming a supervisory position.
It’s critical that your staff understands that your company has a zero tolerance policy on harassment of any kind.
In addition to ensuring that your anti-harassment policy meets California law requirements, make sure to also review your Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) policy. EPLI coverage responds in the event of claims or lawsuits filed by employees, former employees and employment candidates against an employer alleging discrimination (based on age, sex, race, religion, color and national origin), sexual harassment claims, wrongful termination (including constructive discharge and retaliatory discharge), infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract, and violation of the Family Medical Leave Act or other leave laws.
Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services (PMIS), specialists in insuring manufacturing firms throughout California, can assist you with your harassment policies, provide harassment prevention training tailored to manufacturing firms, and secure the EPLI coverage you need in the event of an allegation involving harassment and other workplace-related issues. Give us a call at 855.910.5788.