Avoid Sexual Harassment
Strong policies and zero tolerance will help to protect you from lawsuits
by William H. Donahue Jr.
In the past few years, the number of formal complaints filed against
employers for some form of sexual harassment skyrocketed to more than 15,000
annually. Jewelers are not exempt. One jeweler who was sued ended up spending
$100,000 to resolve the case. Unfortunately, there's no way to ensure you'll
never face a sexual harassment suit. But there are three steps you can take
to swing the odds in your favor:
- Make sure you and your employees understand what sexual harassment
- Make it known from day one that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
- Tell every employee what their rights and duties are if they have a
complaint and take every complaint seriously with a fair, prompt and thorough
What is Sexual Harassment?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based
on sex. Federal and state agencies, laws and courts have expanded and refined
the law so discrimination is defined to include sexual harassment. Further,
the law recognizes two general types of sexual harassment for which an employee
can sue and win damages: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment. Simply
put, the Latin phrase Quid Pro Quo means "this for that."
"This" is usually some conduct of a sexual nature and "that"
is usually some sort of employment benefit or detriment.
A hostile environment exists when the conduct of an employer, supervisor
or coworkers creates an atmosphere that is offensive, abusive or intimidating
and unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance.
Write It Down
The first step every employer needs to take is to have a written employment
policy addressing sexual harassment, says Connie Fanning, a workplace diversity
and harassment training consultant based in Minneapolis, MN. At a minimum,
the policy needs to state what the law requires in the workplace. It should
give examples of the sort of conduct prohibited, from blatant to subtle,
making it clear the examples are illustrative and not an exhaustive list.
The effectively drafted policy statement should be couched in positive
terms and be a lot more than a laundry list of don'ts. When expanded into
a company philosophy statement, often referred to as an Appropriate Behavior
Policy, the statement can serve as a powerful tool positively affecting
all areas of employee relations (see "A Sexual Harassment Policy Statement"
on the next page for an example).
The policy statement should conclude with a message that informs employees
to whom they should report the offense and how the report will be handled.
It's advisable to state there will be a prompt investigation, any decisions
will be rendered fairly, appropriate action will be taken and no reprisals
will be made against the complainant.
Create a Policy that Works
The language of the written policy statement should be created with
input from employees. Fanning recommends giving statements to all current
employees, who should read them carefully and sign them. All new employees
should be given the policy and asked to sign it before they begin work.
Having the statement in writing and asking the employees to sign it underscores
how seriously you take the philosophy.
Fanning does more as a consultant than writing a policy statement telling
employees what behavior is actionable. In a three- to four-hour training
session, she also engages employees and managers in discussions and role-playing
exercises to clarify values and create empathy. These sessions address conflicts
and resolve them before they have time to build.
An important aspect of the role- playing and discussion format is how
it improves the level of communication among members of an organization
to resolve disputes, conflicts and misunderstandings. These dispute-resolution
skills are useful in any area of workplace conflict. This is one of the
most tangible benefits of using a consultant such as Fanning to work with
employees. Employment consultants may charge $1,000 to $2,500 a day, depending
on location, experience and the number of employees to be trained. A labor
law attorney in your area can refer you to a qualified consultant, or you
can look in your local Yellow Pages.
Other jewelers are another valuable resource for finding a good consultant.
Talk to people active in your professional jewelers' associations who have
used a consultant or who may know someone who has.
For more information, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
publishes detailed guidelines on sexual harassment. These guidelines, along
with brochures and sample company policy statements, are also available
from most state attorney general offices.
William H. Donahue Jr. is an attorney practicing in New Jersey.
A Sexual Harassment Policy Statement
We expect behavior that respects and encourages the full potential of
every employee. We wish to enhance the professionalism and profitability
of the company, and each of us needs to understand this can't occur in an
environment where individuals feel harassed, intimidated or discriminated
against due to their gender.
There are two forms of sexual harassment we must all strive to avoid.
The first and most obvious form is asking for sexual favors or behaving
inappropriately toward any employee you supervise. Such acts could lead
employees to believe that if they do comply, there will be workplace benefits
or if they do not comply with your wishes or endure your sexually charged
comments, you could fire them or prevent them from obtaining promotions
or other benefits.
The second form of sexual harassment concerns the environment in which
we work and is easier to make mistakes about. Such actions as telling lewd
jokes, displaying sexually explicit photos, teasing a coworker (even one
who does not report to you) about sexual matters can be perceived as offensive,
degrading or intimidating. This could cause an employee to prevent another
from working effectively, harming all of us and the health of our business.
The examples cited here are not the only ones. Use your judgment. Think
about your coworkers and their backgrounds, beliefs and conduct at work.
Be aware of their reactions to your behavior, even behavior you or your
friends would not find offensive. When in doubt, ask coworkers if you are
unsure as to whether you have offended them, apologize if they answer yes
and ask them to tell you directly if you offend them again.
If you feel you've been harassed in our workplace, the management encourages
you to report your concerns promptly. We take such matters seriously and
strive to resolve problems as quickly as possible. Please report your concerns
to one of the following company officers: (insert names). If you prefer,
please call our company attorney, (insert name), at (insert phone number).
We promise each complaint will be handled as follows:
- There will be a prompt and thorough investigation.
- No decision will be made regarding either you or the accused until
the investigation is complete enough to make a fair assessment of the situation.
- All parties will be treated fairly with due regard to privacy.
- The intent of the process is to create an environment where all employees
can work and thrive.
- Measures taken to remedy problems will be evenhanded and proportionate
to the offense.
- No employee will be subjected to retaliation for making a sincere complaint
or reporting a sexual harassment problem to the company.
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.