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As one Golden State vice-mayor is discovering the hard way, even an allegation of sexual harassment in the workplace can have serious negative side effects on an entire office. In political situations these types of allegations can quickly derail a person’s career, and in a more typical office setting allegations of sexual harassment can develop into a public relations nightmare that causes losses on a company-wide scale. Knowing how to identify warning signs of potential sexual harassment in the workplace and understanding what steps to take in the event harassment is discovered are two key steps toward building a stronger workplace and avoiding an embarrassing quagmire.

Warning Signs of Harassment

In today’s workforce there is no room for “playful banter” or “just a few jokes” when they contain allusions to sexuality or sexual activity of any kind. As the workforce continues to diversify, industries that were traditionally reserved for male or female employees only have all but disappeared. What has replaced these workplaces are those that are designed for maximum efficiency by utilizing an employee’s strengths and talents without regard to their sex.

Unfortunately, despite workplace training and policies, incidents of harassment still occur against men and women in the workforce. Recognizing early on when an employee is being harassed can help a company avoid prolonged litigation and embarrassment down the road.  Some warning signs include:

  • Apathetic or poor performance by an employee who typically excels at his or her job;
  • An employee with an exemplary timeliness record begins to show up late for work, or calls in sick frequently;
  • An employee exhibits avoidance behavior when around another employee/manager;
  • Increased unprofessional behavior and language in the workplace;

Response

Arguably just as important as being able to identify sexual harassment in the workplace is having an appropriate, swift response to such behavior. It is not enough for management to merely speak with an offending employee or issue a warning with no other ramifications for harassing behavior. Employers must have strong policies in place that employees know will be strictly enforced to protect them while they are performing the duties of their position. Having a ‘no tolerance’ policy that includes an immediate investigation into allegations of even the most minor forms of harassment is an easy way for a company to handle incidents early-on and before they have had time to escalate.  

It is also important to provide clear channels for employee complaints and provide assurances that complaints or concerns will not be met with any form of retaliation. This way, if an employee feels uncomfortable, he or she knows who to contact to discuss their concerns and will feel comfortable talking with that person before the situation becomes out of control. Finally, employers should take swift and immediate corrective action against any employee who is found to have engaged in unlawful harassment toward another employee. In doing this, the company is able to show its workforce that it takes all incidents of harassment seriously and does not tolerate such behavior in the workplace.

Questions?

If your company has any questions about sexual harassment in the workplace, call the attorneys at Garcia & Gurney today. Our team can review current policies or draft new ones that will help protect your workforce from unwanted and illegal harassment while helping your company avoid the high costs of litigation.

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