What you need to know about sexual harassment
By Philip Dickey
Partner and Director of Human Resources at DoctorsManagement
Sexual harassment accusations are just about everywhere on media today! We see high profile individuals in many professions under scrutiny and some losing their jobs. Whether it is an employer, school, or government, it is paramount to strive to prevent sexual harassment and address it when brought to light. Let’s talk about this from an employer’s perspective.
Employers must be committed to providing a professional work environment. In keeping with this commitment, they must strive to maintain a policy prohibiting unlawful harassment. This includes sexual harassment, and any conduct that has for the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, when based upon a person’s protected status, such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identification or expression, or other protected group status as provided by law. The policy should apply to all employees including supervisory and non-supervisory employees, and conduct between male/female, female/male, and members of the same sex. It should prohibit harassment in any form including verbal, visual, and physical harassment. This includes, but not limited to, means of communication like e-mail, texting, faxes, handouts, and voice-mail, etc.
Sexual harassment is a behavior, which undermines the integrity of the employment relationship. All employees must be allowed to work in an environment free from unsolicited and unwelcome sexual overtures, sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment does not refer to occasional sincere compliments. It refers to behavior, which is not welcome, is personally offensive, reduces morale, and unreasonably interferes with employee effectiveness and work performance.
Generally, two categories of sexual harassment exist. The first, “quid pro quo” (something for something) may be defined as an exchange of sexual favors for improvement in an employee’s working condition and/or compensation. The second category, “hostile work environment,” can be described as unwelcome conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment or unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance.
Examples of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to, offensive or unwelcome physical contact, lewd or sexually suggestive comments, sexual propositions, sexually oriented teasing or kidding, jokes of a sexual nature, or any display of sexually explicit pictures, photos, cartoons, books, magazines, greeting cards, or other objects. What one employee considers funny, interesting, unique or amusing may be offensive to another employee.
All employees must respect the rights of one another and should refrain from any behavior or conduct toward any other employee that could be interpreted as sexual harassment.
Any employee or supervisor who believes they have been harassed and/or intimidated by a co-worker, supervisor, or any other person has the responsibility to promptly report the facts of the incident or incidents and the names of the individuals involved to management. An employee should not have to complain to the offending person — contact another manager or physician with whom he or she would feel comfortable. Employees are encouraged to report harassment to management before it becomes severe or pervasive. All concerns brought to management’s attention should be kept confidential as far as is possible and practical. Any investigation may include interviewing the individual charged, and/or witnesses. No employee should purposely provide or make an untrue statement of fact regarding a complaint of harassment or in an investigation. Retaliation against anyone who complains of harassment or who participates in an investigation should be strictly prohibited.
An employer’s aim is to investigate all incidents and have prompt resolutions with appropriate management personnel involved. If the employer determines that harassment did occur, appropriate disciplinary action must be taken against the offending employee, up to and including termination. If the individual who harassed the employee is not employed by the company, it should take corrective action to the extent practical and possible. However, if the investigation determines that the complaint is not bona fide and that the employee has willfully given false information regarding the complaint, disciplinary action may be considered against the individual who filed the complaint and gave false information. Such matters may need the assistance of an experienced attorney in discrimination.