Sexual harassment suits may be filed against a business for any number of reasons. In fact, some employers are surprised to learn that sexual harassment charges have been filed against them because of suggestive posters, suggestive items on display in the workplace or because of lewd jokes told in the workplace. However, under California law, all of these are considered a violation of workplace rules.
Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace
Employers in California who have five or more employees are under an obligation per the laws in the state to provide a workplace where employees do not feel they are subjected to sexual harassment. It is important to note that there are two specific categories of harassment which are “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment”. As an employer, you should be aware of what each of these terms means, specifically:
- Quid pro quo – when an employee feels they were denied opportunities for advancement or increase in pay because they refused a sexual advance on the job. In some cases, if an employee reports a sexual advance and were subsequently dismissed from their job this may also be considered quid pro quo.
- Hostile work environment – when other employees, regular visitors or others are telling offensive jokes regularly, an employee may feel the environment is hostile. Keep in mind this could mean racially insensitive jokes, jokes of a sexual nature or other behaviors an employee finds offensive.
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, during 2011 there were more than 11,000 sexual harassment cases filed. More than 15% of these were filed by male employees. No employer, regardless of size is guaranteed to never have a suit filed against them. It is important to note, that of the more than 11,000 suits filed, settlements exceeded $52 million for suits that were found to have merit. It is imperative to verify that you have the right coverage to protect your business in the event you are sued for sexual harassment.