Keeping Your Guard Up: Remaining Vigilant Against Sexual Harassment

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made sexual discrimination in the workplace illegal. Fifty years later, problems persist, and employers still must take steps to protect against the threat of sexual harassment claims. In this area, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is particularly fitting.

Michigan courts recognize at least three types of sexual harassment claims: (1) hostile environment claims – based on unwelcome conduct or communications on the basis of sex, which create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment; (2) quid pro quo claims – based on a co-worker or supervisor using an employee’s submission to, or rejection of, unwelcome sexual conduct or communication as a basis for employment decisions surrounding that employee; and (3) retaliation claims – based on adverse employment action taken against the employee (i.e., demotion, reduction in hours, etc.) after the employee reports sexual harassment.

Notably, an employer may be liable for sexual harassment based on the conduct of its employee, even where the employer did not encourage the alleged conduct or communications giving rise to the claim. The following are just a few of the steps employers should consider to protect against sexual harassment claims:

  • Create and implement anti-harassment policies: Put into place workplace anti-harassment policies and communicate these policies to the workforce. These policies should be consistently and fairly applied throughout the organization. Ideally, employers should schedule anti-harassment training for their employees.
  • Maintain a healthy workplace environment: Take steps to eliminate provocative posters, photos, and other risqué material that may garner employee complaints.
  • Investigate: Promptly investigate all employee complaints, even if they seem minor. In most cases, this should include consulting with any HR staff and/or an attorney. An employer can limit its liability by taking “prompt and appropriate” remedial action after learning about an alleged incident of sexual harassment.
  • Respond with care: Address employee concerns with objectivity and sensitivity. Limit your conclusions to the facts presented and act accordingly.

Please contact Wright Beamer today if you need assistance in adopting workplace anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policies or in handling other employment-related issues.

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