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What to do when a manager is accused of sexual harassment

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The topic of this article is what to do when a manager is accused of sexual harassment in your workplace. This topic of this article is especially important for you if you are a higher up manager or supervisor, but especially if you own a business and are the head employer.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is becoming more and more recognized. I think that it's actually less widespread than it was in the past when people didn't care about it; but now people recognize sexual harassment for what it is and so you have more and more claims, and rightly so. Between the years of 1991 and 1999 there was over a 50 percent increase in the number of sexual harassment claims that were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or the EEOC). Now, let us define precisely what sexual harassment is. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issues a precise definition of what sexual harassment is. Sexual harassment is "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct" that makes people feel uncomfortable, that is unwanted, and that creates an unpleasant work environment. There are a whole lot of things that qualify as sexual harassment that you probably never even thought of, including blond jokes (notice how they are always about women).
Now, the problem for you as an employer is that legally, according to the Supreme Court rulings Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries v Ellerth that employers can be held responsible for any sexual harassment that takes place at their business. This means that even if you as an employer are not involved in and have no knowledge of any sexual harassment that is going on in your business, you can and probably will be held responsible for that sexual harassment. You will be held responsible if something called tangible employment action is the result of sexual harassment. So if the sexual harassment results in promotion being denied, demotion, changes in assignment, changes in compensation, refusal to hire, or firing, you will be held responsible.

Here are some tips on what you should do not only to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace, but also what you should do if a manager is accused of sexual harassment.

  1. Stop it before it starts. Hold company training meetings that define exactly what sexual harassment is and how it can be manifested. Make absolutely clear that no sexual harassment whatsoever will be tolerated in your workplace.
  2. Create a concrete policy. If you have a sexual harassment policy already in place, then people will know precisely what they can and cannot do, and what you will do to them if they do engage in sexual harassment. Make sure that everyone has a copy of the policy, and post it in obvious places like the workroom and over the water cooler. Doing so will help you avoid liability.
  3. Protect the accuser-and yourself. If one of your managers is accused of sexual harassment, the first thing that you as an employer should do is to make sure that the accuser is not fired, or punished in any kind of way. If the accuser is a victim of one of those tangible employment actions talked about above, you as an employer will definitely be held liable.
  4. Investigate both sides. The way that you should investigate any sexual harassment claims is to investigate both sides. Meet with both parties. Interview all of the people involved, separately. Interview witnesses. Make sure that you write up all findings. Make sure that you document everything properly so that you will not be held negligent.
  5. Discipline if necessary. If you find that a manager is guilty of sexual harassment, discipline appropriately. You might find it necessary to fire the manager. You might find it better to transfer the individual to another department, but if you do so, make sure that you watch him or her carefully to ensure that no patterns of sexual harassment are established. This will protect both the other employees and yourself.

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Posted by DF
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