April 26, 2009

The Nuts and Bolts of…..Sexual Harassment

By Paul Bieber

Last week we made fun of a company that was involved in a sexual harassment claim. Let’s help each of you with a proper definition and preventative policies that will help your glass company avoid this problem.

In the United States, sexual harassment is discrimination, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A simple definition states: “Sexual harassment occurs when one employee makes continued and unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any other type of physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee, against his or her wishes.”

Here is where the law comes in: sexual harassment occurs “when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.” (from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC)

This sure doesn’t sound like your glass shop, does it. You joke around, a little, and your foreman has a joke or a smart comment, every day, but, look out–

Here are some examples of what courts have found to be sexual harassment, which means someone was found guilty…and that costs big bucks!

  • Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker’s back, grabbing an employee around the waist or shoulders, or interfering with an employee’s ability to move. (Unless you are on a basketball court, stay out of people’s way.)
  • Repeated requests for dates or meetings that are turned down.
  • Unwanted gestures, jokes, offensive words on shirts, and unwelcome comments and/or suggestions.
  • Transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature. (Modern times don’t excuse old-fashioned stupidity)
  • Showing or flaunting sexually suggestive pictures or toys.

In your glass shop, where you are used to being the chief decision maker, the government has made these decisions for you. It is not what you think, it is what the prosecutor, the judge and the jury thinks. 99 times out 100, they will be stricter than you.

We know it is not you, but here are the standards: (from the EEOC–http://eeoc.gov/policy/docs/harassment-facts.html)–

  • First, An individual qualifies as an employee’s ‘supervisor’ if the individual has the authority to recommend tangible decisions affecting the employee or if the individual has the authority to direct the employee;s daily work activities.
  • Second, an employer is ALWAYS responsible for harassment by a supervisor that culminated in a tangible employment action (tangible means a change in earnings, job assignment, job structure, etc). If the harassment did not lead to a tangible employment action, the employer is still liable unless it proves that; 1) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassment; AND, 2) the employee unreasonable failed to complain to management or to avoid harm otherwise.
  • Next, you as an employer should: establish, distribute to all employees, and enforce a policy prohibiting harassment and setting out a procedure for making complaints. In most cases, the policy and procedure should be in writing.
  • Also, you should strongly encourage employees to report harassment to management before it becomes severe or pervasive. The employer should designate more than one individual to take complaints, and should ensure that these individuals are in accessible locations. You should instruct all of your supervisors to report complaints or harassment to appropriate officials. You should also assure all employees that if the complain, you will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible.

The next blog on this explosive subject will cover what to do when there is a complaint in your company. In the meantime, talk about glass, politics and Mets/Yankees rivalry, but not the “S” word.

I will be off next week, we’ll see you on the net in two weeks.