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Prevention of sexual harassment is best policy

By Carey Brown

POSTED:


Question: GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain said he once brought his hand to his chin when talking with a female employee and mentioned that the woman was the same height as his wife. Is that sexual harassment? What is the legal definition of sexual harassment in the workplace?

Answer: The legal definition of sexual harassment is "unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment."

On the face of it, Herman Cain bringing his hand to his chin and remarking that the woman was the same height as his wife would likely not meet the standard of "severe or pervasive." The inference on his part was that it was this innocuous behavior that led to a complaint and resulted in a monetary settlement. In doing so he potentially sends a misleading message about the intent of sexual harassment law and the implementation of sexual harassment policy in the workplace.

Q: What should I do if I believe I am the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace? What can I do if my supervisor doesn't take any action after I report harassment or if it is the most senior person who is doing the harassing?

A: If you believe you are being sexually harassed, you have several options. While each person needs to decide what plan of action is best for his or her situation, many individuals have found informal action facilitates the fastest resolution with the fewest complications.

First, you might want to tell the individual that the behavior is offensive and request they stop. This can be done either verbally or in writing. Document your verbal communication or keep a copy of your written statement. Communicating directly to the individual isn't necessary or required, but it stands to reason that someone won't stop something if they don't know it is bothering you.

If the harassment involves the most senior person, tell someone in your company such as another manager or your Human Resources Department.

If a supervisor does not take action on your report, consider informing the supervisor's manager or someone else in management and/or HR. You also have the option to file a complaint with either the Federal EEOC or Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. Be aware there are deadlines in which a complaint must be brought. In evaluating your complaint, the EEOC and HCRC will take into consideration whether you made a reasonable effort to resolve the issue within your own company.

Q: As a manager or owner of a business, what should I do if an employee tells me he or she has been sexually harassed?

A: When an employee comes to you with an allegation of sexual harassment, take the situation seriously and be sensitive to the fact that it's a difficult subject to discuss. Try to get a complete picture. The employee probably will be upset and might focus on feelings. It's up to you to listen carefully and, when the employee calms down, to probe for concrete details using who, what, when questions.

Find out what remedy the employee is seeking. Let the employee know that you will take action to make sure the unwelcome behavior stops. You are required to do so even if the employee doesn't want to.

Avoid asking questions that imply some wrongdoing or leading behavior on the part of the complainant: "What were you doing that made him say that?" "Why do you wear such a low-cut dress around the office?"

Avoid minimizing or discounting the level of distress felt by the complainant. Their feelings are real and legitimate and need to be accepted and respected, even if you don't understand why they are so upset. Don't say things like, "It's not so bad," "I'm sure she didn't mean anything as bad as that," "I'm sure it was a misunderstanding, joke, compliment or rare occurrence."

All complainants should be made aware that retaliation of any form against the complainant will not be tolerated and will be subject to discipline.

Undertake a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and periodically follow up with the employee to assure the harassment has stopped.

Document everything.

Q: What should I do as a manager or owner to minimize the risk of being sued for sexual harassment?

A: The best way to minimize risk is prevention.

As a manager or owner, there are three primary actions you should take:

» Adopt a sound anti-harassment policy.

» Provide periodic training for all levels of employees on the policy.

» Conduct prompt investigation and enforcement of the policy.

One of the best employer strategies for minimizing risk is having an Employee Assistance Program.


Interviewed by David Butts. "Akamai Money" seeks out local experts to answer questions about business in Hawaii. If you have an issue you would like us to tackle, please email it to business@staradvertiser.com and put "Akamai Money" in the subject line.






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manakuke wrote:
Sexual harassment complaints are no laughing matters!
on November 13,2011 | 03:23AM
Male_Matters wrote:
Why is it that the overwhelming number of sex-harassment complaints are made by women against men, against both supervisors and male co-workers, in both the workplace and society in general? Why does sexual harassment remain a pervasive problem following decades of laws and policies designed to curb and prevent it? I believe something is missing. See "The Sexual Harassment Quagmire: How To Dig Out" at http://battlinbog.blog-city.com/the_sexual_harassment_quagmire_digging_out_with_true_equali.htm
on November 13,2011 | 04:12AM
clan4irish wrote:
Sexual harassment complaints have increased and will continue to increase because there is money in it for the 'victim' but especially for the attorneys. Bottom line.
on November 13,2011 | 05:37AM
daniwitz13 wrote:
She, Ms. Brown did NOT seem to cover the Cain issue very well. She said that what he did, did NOT rise to the level standard. So what happens when that happens? She did NOT address a frivolous claim for Money. She did NOT explain what to say to the party making a frivolous claim. How does one tell that person that their claim has no merit? How do one tell a copy cat suit for money that another person got, is frivolousI? If the Cain claim did not meet a certain level, how does it proceed then and what should have been done? Or is it out of anyone's hands once it is claimed? How can one say that they did NOT harass, when the claim is harassment? It becomes a corundum when it is NOT what you claim, but what the other claims is paramount. Pity.
on November 13,2011 | 10:55AM
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