Over 53 charges of sexual harassment are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission every business day.
What have you done to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace?
Among the myriad subjects now commonly addressed in employee training is harassment. Sexual harassment, as well as age, disability and race discrimination, are among the types of harassment employees experience in the workplace.
But it wasn't until the early 1990s that sexual harassment and discrimination training became a higher priority for companies large and small.
During the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, sexual harassment was brought to the forefront when Thomas was accused of harassing an employee, Anita Hill. This was a wake-up call for companies.
Harassment and discrimination of all types can hurt businesses. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in the past 10 years, the average jury verdict in a case of sexual harassment was $250,000, not including legal fees, court costs and punitive damages, making it the most expensive harassment complaint.
With such significant jury verdicts, companies have to take the issue seriously.
In the years since the Thomas case, companies, especially large companies, have been preparing more effectively to defend themselves against claims of sexual and other types of harassment in the workplace.
Under Title IV of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, harassment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion or national origin will not be tolerated in the workplace.
To help companies comply with this law, the EEOC established a set of guidelines defining three primary elements a company must implement to demonstrate its commitment to providing employees with a safe work environment free of harassment.
- Educate employees. Explain what harassing behavior is and that it's not tolerated.
- Provide a reporting system and make all employees aware of that system. Make sure everyone knows who they can go to if they feel they're being harassed.
- Plan for action. Have investigative procedures in place and look into the claim quickly.
Two U.S. Supreme Court cases helped better define a company's responsibility, in particular regarding charges of sexual harassment. The two cases – Faragher vs. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries vs. Ellerth – gave birth to the Affirmative Defense Strategy.
The Affirmative Defense Strategy is recognized in the courts as a way for companies to reduce their liability if they follow the training guidelines established by the EEOC.
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