Harassment is a serious matter that can affect not only the victim, but also the entire workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing most of the federal anti-discrimination laws, defines harassment as unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or any other protected class.
It’s important to take steps to prevent and recognize inappropriate behavior and harassment situations, and take corrective action when they do occur. Managers play a valuable role in this, and can even potentially protect the business from costly litigation.
Managers should maintain an open-door policy where employees can come forward with concerns, instead of taking a complaint to the EEOC or applicable state agency. Managers should also be trained in sound management practices, applicable law, and company policies that aim to prevent malicious, abusive, hostile, or offense workplace conduct.
Consider the benefits of training for managers in the areas of:
- Statutory provisions prohibiting harassment in the workplace;
- How to detect harassment;
- Appropriate actions for preventing and remedying misconduct; and
- The responsibility for reporting and/or addressing harassment in the workplace.
By taking reasonable care to prevent harassment in the workplace, you and your company may be more likely to avoid claims and/or limit liability for damages. To help minimize liability in harassment claims, consider the following:
- Understand the value of having effective, strongly worded policies prohibiting all types of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment and harassment based on any other legally protected class.
- Distribute a copy of the company’s “No Harassment” policy to all employees. Obtain a signed hard copy or electronic acknowledgement of receipt. Redistribute the policy on a regular basis, or more frequently if changes are made.
- Provide non-harassment training for all employees.
- Attend manager and supervisor training so that you can recognize inappropriate conduct that may result in harassment and take appropriate steps to remedy the situation.
- Do your part to enforce the company’s harassment prevention policies, and address and discourage any questionable workplace behavior.
- Take all complaints seriously and conduct prompt, thorough, and objective investigations, in accordance with your company’s policy and procedures.
- Comply with state and federal labor posting and notice requirements, which are summarized below. Required notices should be visible to employees and applicants and/or distributed as mandated under state and federal laws.
States with specific anti-harassment laws
Most U.S. employers have specific responsibilities related to anti-discrimination under the EEOC. Individual states have also taken their own approaches to deter workplace harassment. The following states mandate that employers establish and/or post anti-discrimination policies, and most have regulations beyond those set by the EEOC:
- Alaska – In addition to protections similar to the EEOC’s, employees are protected from discrimination based on marital status. All employers, regardless of size, are subject to state anti-discrimination laws.
- California – Harassment prohibitions apply to all businesses with one or more employees and pertain to independent contractors, as well. Supervisors can be held liable for unlawful harassment. Every employer must maintain a written policy detailing its approach to meeting anti-harassment provisions. Certain employees must receive training in identifying and preventing sexual harassment (see below).
- Connecticut – Extends workplace laws against harassment to unpaid interns; the laws don’t require a minimum number of employees and encompass anyone in Connecticut conducting business. Read the latest information about sexual harassment laws in Connecticut.
- Rhode Island – Requires employers to display an anti-harassment poster in the workplace.
State requirements for harassment training
Three states have mandatory harassment training requirements for certain employees:
- In California, employers with 50 or more employees must provide training to supervisors and managers within six months of becoming a supervisor/manager and at least once every two years thereafter.
- In Connecticut, all employers of all sizes must provide at least two hours of training to supervisory employees by Oct. 1, 2020, with supervisors hired on or before Oct. 1, 2019 required to receive training and educational materials within six months of employment. Employers with three or more employees must provide training to all non-supervisory employees hired after Oct. 1, 2019.
- In Maine, employers with 15 or more employees must provide training to employees within one year of being hired. Supervisors and managers must receive additional training within one year of assuming supervisory responsibilities.
Several other states strongly recommend instruction or training in recognizing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Managers and supervisors have an obligation to support the company’s harassment prevention programs, but this involves more than just support for the policy. Help create an environment where all employees feel respected, comfortable, and free from harassment or discrimination.