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Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

As sexual harassment at work has become a conspicuous subject in the news, employers and employees in workplaces across the country are seeking guidance with regard to sexual harassment complaints. This is a serious concern for everyone involved. It is important for employers to understand how to reduce their risk of a sexual harassment lawsuit, as well as for employees to understand their rights with regard to sex discrimination laws.

Almost anyone in a workplace can be a harasser, including a supervisor or boss, co-worker, or even a client or customer. When an employee experiences sexual harassment, he or she should complain to their employer.

While Federal, state and, in the case of New York City, local laws offer differing levels of protection against sexual harassment, on every level the law requires employers to comply with the prohibitions against sexual harassment and to take steps to investigate sexual harassment complaints.

Employees should know that the law also offers protection against retaliation. Fear of retaliation is a leading reason employees tolerate and do not immediately report inappropriate behavior. However, an environment can be created in which the chances of harassment are reduced and employers and employees have a clear path to follow, should a complaint need to be made.

Conduct Sexual Harassment Employee Training Sessions

If you are an employer, there are steps you can take before receiving a complaint to reduce the risk of a sexual harassment incident in the workplace. One of the most important steps is to conduct employee training sessions.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, sexual harassment training for employees should include but necessarily not be limited to the following information:

● Acknowledging the importance of responding seriously and promptly to sexual harassment when it occurs;

● Understanding the elements of sexual harassment and the various forms it can take in a workplace;

● Identifying sexual harassment when it happens to you or when you see it, including sexual harassment that relies on new forms of technology like text messages or emails;

● Proper reporting of sexual harassment claims.

Prior to an employee training session, employers should have a workplace policy in place concerning sexual harassment, which a New York employment law attorney can help you to draft. Procedures for reporting sexual harassment claims should be outlined in your company's workplace policy, including to whom the employee should report the situation, and what will happen next should the situation be reported.

Prompt and Neutral Investigations Into Sexual Harassment Complaints

When employers receive sexual harassment complaints, they can continue to reduce the risk of a lawsuit by handling complaints in a prompt and neutral manner. Employers can choose to investigate complaints internally or to retain a third party to conduct the investigation. As EEOC policy underscores, employers are responsible for supervisors' behavior, and employers need to take steps to prevent harassment. Sometimes, this means turning to a knowledgeable third party, such as a labor and employment attorney.

Consult an Attorney When Faced with a Sexual Harassment Complaint

Employers who conduct trainings and draft policies for their employees are taking arguably the most important precaution against sexual harassment, but if you are an employee, it is important to remember that you are still protected even if your employer does not have a sexual harassment policy. You have a right to a safe work environment free of sexual jokes, innuendo, physical contact, and unsolicited comments about looks, clothing, or personal life.

If you have any questions about sexual harassment liability as an employer, or if you have questions about filing a complaint, you should discuss your concerns with a New York employment discrimination attorney.

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