Reports of sexual harassment in various California workplaces are in the news almost daily, due, in part, to the recent Hollywood scandals regarding some of the industry’s biggest players. Thankfully for California employers, there are three general steps employers can take to reduce the likelihood of becoming part of the headlines.
First, employers should have harassment, discrimination, and retaliation policies that define these behaviors and identify the process for reporting incidents. These procedures should also outline the ways in which employees reporting incidents will be protected. Employees should also be aware of potential discipline, including termination, for those who violate the policies. Employees should also be notified that they will be protected from retaliation if they report an incident. As of January 1, 2016, employers must obtain written acknowledgment that employees have received copies of these policies. Learn more about what your employee handbook should look like here.
Second, employers with 50 or more employees must train supervisors in these reporting requirements and disciplinary policies and procedures. The training must also cover “abusive conduct” in the workplace. This is defined as repeated infliction of verbal abuse that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. The law further states that harassment training must occur within six months of an employee assuming a supervisory position. The Government Code also requires prompt investigation of complaints. The law states that supervisors act unlawfully if they know “or should have known of this conduct” and fail to take “corrective action.” Employers are also liable for failing to “take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.” Thus, to reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit, employers should establish clear and efficient methods for investigating reports of harassment incidents.
Third, all employees must receive a copy of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing “Sexual Harassment” information sheet, which is a two-page pamphlet defining sexual harassment, identifying harassing behaviors, and outlining an employer’s obligations and an employee’s civil remedies. Many employers include this information sheet in new hire paperwork, such as an employee handbook that explains the employer’s harassment, discrimination, and retaliation policies as identified in step one, above.
If your business is being threatened with a sexual harassment claim, or to discuss how to take steps to avoid potential litigation, contact experienced employment lawyer Drew E. Pomerance today.