Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Important Sexual Harassment Basics


Sexual harassment is a costly workplace offense - both in terms of the emotional impact on people and hard dollar costs.  (Especially if there is a lawsuit).  There is often no coverage on your commercial package policy or workers' compensation policy either.  

Sexual harassment, as it legally applies to the workplace, is often misunderstood.  Both words are emotional charged and have varying degrees of meaning among different people.

So, I thought I would remind you of the legal basics to help you catch trouble before it starts.

There are basically two types of sexual harassment:

  1. The first type, referred to as 'quid pro quo' is the most obvious.  'Quid pro quo' means 'this for that' or 'something for something'.  In the sexual harassment arena it refers to sexual advances being used as a basis for employment decisions.  For example:  Mary doesn't get promoted because she refuses her supervisors advances.  Or John suddenly gets bad performance reviews after reporting his supervisors offensive behavior.  Most reasonable people are going to see the problem here.
  2. The second type of harassment, which is also illegal, is more subtle.  It involves a hostile work environment where sexual comments, physical touching or displayed objects create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.  

Important point:  Who decides if the work environment is intimidating, hostile or offensive? Not you.  Not upper management.  Whoever is offended makes that call.

If a "reasonable" person is offended - whether it be by sexual pictures, profanity, dirty jokes or direct sexual comments - then sexual harassment has probably occured. An example could be that nobody else in the office really cares about John's vulgar language and swearing all day long... nobody except Mary.  And if Mary is offended, it makes her work environment uncomfortable, then she could have a case for sexual harassment.

In contrast, let's say Mary and John talk dirty to each other all day long... but they both like it.  As long as neither of them is offended then there's no sexual harassment. UNLESS...somebody else has to listen to it and THAT person is offended by their comments.

So you see, it's not so much what is said or done, but whether or not someone is offended by it.

Obviously, its only right to discourage all sexually charged or profane language and conversations in the workplace and simply avoid the potential of someone being offended in the first place.

As a business owner, you also need to protect yourself. From these types of lawsuits or wrongful termination, and/or discrimination.  You need to have a special policy or an endorsement added to your existing policy called Employment Practices Liability (EPL). There is EPL coverage available and it is usually very reasonable.  We have more information about this coverage under Insurance Quotes, Business Insurance section of our website.

If you would like a free quote or more information about this coverage please contact  me.




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