While sexual and other unlawful harassment issues have been present in the workplace for decades, the current news cycle has made the term a household name. One cannot turn on the television, open a newspaper or surf the web without being inundated with daily reports of sexual harassment. Politicians, news reporters, entertainers, and others are accused of sexual harassment and sometimes sexual assault, on a daily basis.
Harassment (both sexual harassment and harassment based on national origin, religion, LGBTQ status, etc.) is toxic in the workplace and can lead to a loss of talent, poor morale, negative publicity and, in the case of legal action, monetary damages and legal fees. Still, many employers overlook the importance of developing and communicating effective anti-harassment policies and procedures and conducting anti-harassment training, often relegating this “compliance” issue to the bottom of the corporate “to do” list. The current environment presents an opportune time to remind employers of the importance of addressing these issues and ensuring that they are providing a workplace that is free of sexual and other unlawful harassment. In addition to helping to prevent harassment incidents in the first place, comprehensive anti-harassment policies and training also provide employers with an affirmative defense to any legal claims of harassment under both state and federal law.
The message to employers is clear – ignore these issues at your own peril! Although the law in this area has been clear for some time, many employers do not appreciate the importance of addressing these issues proactively. Employers are well served to review their anti-harassment policies and practices in light of the current social climate.