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How Your Employer can Prevent Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII compliance is not only a question of legal risk management but also a question of maintaining the well-being of employees.

Have a Strong Anti-Harassment Policy in Place

Under Title VII, an employer’s liability for workplace harassment may depend on the status of the harasser. If the harassing employee is the victim’s coworker, the employer is only liable if it was negligent in controlling working conditions.  As such a strong policy encouraging employees to report harassment and an organizational culture preventing harassment not only helps prevent harassment also the employer will have a strong defense that they were not negligent.

Have a Clear Understanding of What’s Acceptable and What is Not

The law generally excludes petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents from the scope of Title VII harassment. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. Accordingly, there are boundaries as to what contributes to a hostile work environment. Under this definition one may joke or disagree with others in the workplace, rather Title VII is there to punish this conduct when it begins to form harassment. What then qualifies as a hostile work environment? According to the US Supreme Court in Title VII is violated “[w]hen the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.”

Identify Risk Factors

Best practices suggest that organizations should specifically assess the existence of harassment or risk factors for harassment through internal reviews, employee surveys or focus groups to evaluate current risk.  Based on the information presented an organization’s risk strategy should incorporate preventive measures to detect and deter hostile work environment sexual harassment in the workplace.  An employer can use such tools as training, policies, or other measures to prevent sexual harassment.

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