A Houston woman complained to her employer about her supervisor’s unwelcome sexual advances. She was transferred to another location, but the offending manager was never disciplined. Was that enough? What about the coworkers left behind? Texas employers must do three things to protect employees from sexual harassment and minimize the risk of employment disputes.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, where a supervisor imposes some kind of employment consequence on the granting or refusal of sexual favors. The law also protects employees from behavior that reasonable people would find hostile in the workplace. This may take the form of electronic communications, comments about physical appearance or bathroom graffiti. Significantly, the complaining employee need not be the immediate target. This greatly expands an employer’s responsibility to maintain a legally compliant workplace.
Employers have an affirmative duty to prevent and correct harassing behavior. Three important steps can also reduce the risk of liability from employment-related disputes.
- Step one is to establish an anti-harassment policy that clearly defines what kinds of conduct are prohibited. That policy should be communicated to all employees on a regular basis, and it should be clear that harassment will not be tolerated.
- Step two involves establishing a process to address complaints. Because of the sensitivity of workplace disputes, this sometimes involves hiring an outside third party.
- Step three is to train supervisors about what actions constitute sexual harassment and how to respond to issues as they arise.
If you believe that you have been a victim of sexual harassment, or if you, as an employer, want more guidance about how to prevent workplace hostility, you can bring your questions to an experienced employment attorney.
Source: The Southeast Texas Record, "Goodwill sued for failing to prevent sexual harassment, suit says", John Suayan, Oct. 31, 2013