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Harassment Lawsuits Can Affect Any Firm



Question: I’ve just heard that a new law has been signed into effect requiring employers to conduct sexual harassment training. Can you provide more details regarding the impact of this law?


Answer:

Organizations of any size can be involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed Assembly Bill 1825, which will require employers with 50 or more employees to provide two hours of training on the topic of sexual harassment for all supervisory personnel. The law becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2006. The training must be completed every two years.

Corporate America has been aware of the importance of creating a harassment-free workplace for the past decade. Initially, the cases we heard about dealt with obvious examples of harassment, such as quid pro quo harassment.

Examples of workplace harassment today, however, are often much less explicit, such as the use of sexual innuendos, sending sexually graphic e-mails, leering, staring or making sexually oriented gestures, to name a few. Some unaware employees are surprised that actions they have taken in fun may land themselves and the company in a great deal of trouble.

The following tips will help you create and preserve a harassment-free workplace, allowing for optimal contributions from all employees.

Inform employees. Ensure that every employee and independent contractor working with you has a copy of your policy on harassment, understands the policy, and knows what steps to take if they feel they are being harassed. Review the policy on a yearly basis.

Do not wait until 2006 to educate both supervisors and employees. Some employers hesitate to spend training dollars on this topic. When you compare the cost of training with the cost of one lawsuit, training is a bargain. Train all employees on a semiannual basis and get them to sign in, documenting their attendance.

Take a strong stance on harassment. If something seems inappropriate, investigate, even if no one has complained. Uphold your company’s policy and speak up for what’s right.

The best offense is a good defense. Don’t wait until someone registers a complaint. Have and enforce a strong non-harassment policy. Train your managers and employees. Create a culture that allows all employees to be safe, secure and successful.

Written by Jane Flaherty, a senior consultant at San Diego based-Peter Barron Stark & Associates, who frequently conducts seminars on sexual harassment and creating an environment for optimal work performance.

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