Sexual harassment is front and center in the news lately, but it is not an issue that only affects the public sector. Private businesses face harassment claims as well. And, if your company is being sued by someone who is claiming they were sexually harassed, you need to take the matter very seriously. It’s important to speak with a West Palm Beach labor and employment law attorney.
What is Sexual Harassment on the Job?
The EEOC, or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, defines sexual harassment as any unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances, requests for any sexual favors, or any other physical or verbal harassment of a sexual nature. If there were no sexual advances or any other elements that fit under the description of sexual harassment, it is still illegal to harass someone at their workplace because of their gender or sex. This means someone cannot make offensive remarks about men or women in general, otherwise it can result in termination.
Federal law doesn’t cover offhand comments or an isolated incident that isn’t really teasing. It becomes illegal when the harassment is frequent, or so severe that it creates a hostile work environment, or the alleged victim gets demoted or otherwise penalized.
As an employer, you also have rights. You need to ask to see the written complaint and request that all allegations be kept confidential until the matter is completely resolved. You should watch your communications with the alleged victim and ensure you are not lashing out, as doing so could make the matter worse.
The employee who is accused needs to come to your human resources department who can also determine how best to proceed based on your company policy. He or she should explain their side of the story and keep the focus on resolving the matter quickly so things can get back to business as usual. You may be able to use alternative dispute resolution tactics to resolve the matter without proceeding through litigation.
Keep calm and always maintain your professionalism. There are ways to refute a claim without hostility. In fact, confronting an accuser in an openly hostile manner will make things far worse. You should also advise the accused employee not to make contact with their accuser either.
What a Mediator Might Look For
If you proceed with an alternative dispute resolution option like mediation, there are some things a mediator is bound to look for. Some of these include:
- Does your business have a posted anti-sexual harassment policy in writing? Has it been disseminated to all employees? Have you documented that communication?
- Does your business have an ombudsperson to whom a victim can report complaints, someone who is outside the supervisory chain of command?
- Do your policies include an anti-retaliatory reporting protection? Is it being implemented?
- Have all employees undergone sexual harassment training?
- When were you put on notice of a possible situation? Was there any investigation done? What actions were taken?
Contact a Florida Labor and Employment Law Attorney
If an employee is accusing you or someone who works for you of sexual harassment, it’s imperative that you contact an attorney right away. Call the Florida lawyers at Pincus & Currier LLP today at 561-868-1340 to schedule a consultation.