This is an ongoing series looking at the nine California Labor Rules to Ignore at Your Own Peril. Today we’ll discuss Sexual and other Workplace Harassment.
Harassment in the workplace is illegal under several federal statutes, but the California Fair Employment and Housing Act is even more stringent than those laws. Behavior which denigrates another employee or demonstrates hostility towards him or her because of any protected personal characteristics is considered harassment. Those characteristics include ethnicity, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, among others.
The rules in California consider what’s reasonable from a woman’s perspective when determining if harassment has occurred. Harassment can be verbal (such as sexual innuendo or off-color joking), non-verbal or visual (like suggestive looks, leering, whistling, and suggestive cartoons), or physical (for example, uninvited shoulder-rubbing or physically impeding someone’s path). For the behavior to be harassment, and not just discourteous, it must be severe and/or pervasive in nature.
Supervisors who ignore a report of harassment put their company at risk; this can be construed as an admission that the company failed to act to prevent the behavior. Employers can be found liable in harassment cases even if the alleged victim is a non-employee; if the accused is a supervisor, that liability can even extend into situations which occur off premises and outside of working hours.
Having policies in place which lay out the definitions of harassment and the consequences for violating them is the first step towards protecting the company. Managers and supervisors must also receive two hours of training every two years, if the company has 50 or more employees.
When a report of harassment is made, it must be taken seriously and investigated. If a court is later involved, it will look for evidence that the company consistently enforced its policy on harassment, and that the response was reasonably calculated to stop the behavior.
Harassment, whether it is subtle or overt, can best be detected and prevented by developing a culture of respect, openness, and communication. If your company employs people in California, contact PACIFIC DATA Marketing for a review of your existing harassment policies and protocols to make sure you’re protected.