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Spring 2018   Volume 28, Number 2        

physician choice

Five Ways to Protect Your Firm from Sexual Harassment Claims

Here are the steps to take to prevent harassment claims and what to do if allegations are made.

Accusations of sexual misconduct have been surfacing at an unprecedented rate. Some of the most recent high-profile figures to be accused of sexual harassment include actor James Franco, celebrity chef Mario Batali, public radio host Garrison Keillor, casino mogul Steve Wynn and dozens more. The list just keeps growing. And these are just public figures. The #metoo movement has many American businesses worrying that these people are only the tip of the iceberg and that someone in their firm may be next.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is hardly new or uncommon. A recent study by Cosmopolitan Magazine found that “81 percent of the more than 2,200 women surveyed had been verbally sexually harassed at work, 44 percent said they encountered unwanted touching and sexual advances, and 25 percent have received lewd texts or emails…Of those, only 29% reported it.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as conduct “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.” In 2016, The EEOC says 12,860 charges of sexual harassment were filed by employees against employers.

The fact is that sexual harassment is not something only perpetrated by powerful public figures. It’s pervasive and exists in businesses of all sizes — and it’s often hard to control.

What Can You Do About It?

  1. The most important first step is to develop a corporate policy on harassment and put in place HR procedures for addressing sexual harassment, including conduct guidelines in your employee handbook. Not doing at least this much can have grave consequences. “The absence of such a policy could be used as evidence that a harassing employee had apparent authority to engage in his or her misconduct, a finding that could trigger employer liability,” said Loretta Worters, an insurance expert formerly with the Insurance Information Institute, to Insurance Journal.
  2. Employee training also plays an important role in creating a culture of awareness about the problem. Committing to a safe workplace should include more than just protecting employees against bodily injury. According to risk manager and human resource consultant Steve Carter, as part of their mandatory sexual harassment education, companies should:
    • Emphasize the organization’s commitment to providing a harassment-free workplace.
    • Familiarize employees with the organization’s procedures for reporting incidents of sexual harassment.
    • Apprise employees of the range of disciplinary consequences for legitimate complaints.
    • Provide employees with coping strategies to handle minor incidents of harassment before they become serious issues. [Source: The Rough Notes Company]
  3. Audits can also help by assessing whether existing systems and procedures may engender situations where sexual harassment can easily take place. Start by reviewing your hiring process, says Worters. “The problem starts when human resources hires the wrong person,” Worters says. “That’s what plaintiff’s lawyers are going to look at. Do you have a history of hiring these types of people?”
  4. Employees should be encouraged to report incidents of sexual harassment promptly and, if necessary, anonymously. Supervisors and those who handle sexual harassment incidents, such as HR personnel, should receive training on identifying problems, learning to proactively intervene to prevent complaints and how to resolve them.
  5. As always, it’s best to manage allegations of sexual harassment internally and diffuse situations before they become serious. If any of the above steps fail, your fallback is to have a sound insurance program. Several types of insurance policies could help (please the article, "Four Insurance Policies That May Protect against a Sexual Harassment Claim," in this month's newsletter).

We’d be happy to give you quotations if you don’t already have any of these coverages. Please contact us.

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In this issue:

Risk Tip

Five Ways to Protect Your Firm from Sexual Harassment Claims

Workers’ Compensation and the Teleworker

The Six Types of OSHA Violations and Their Penalties

Four Insurance Policies That May Protect against a Sexual Harassment Claim



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