Workplace Harassment

What You Need To Know About Harassment In The Workplace


Current events have brought sexual harassment and assault to the forefront on social media and in the news. So what do businesses and organizations need to know about harassment in the workplace?  
What Exactly is Harassment?

Although sexual harassment is the most commonly discussed form of harassment, harassment comes in many forms and can be about an employee’s race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information, ethnicity, national origin, or any other characteristic that is protected under the law. Harassment is essentially conduct that shows hostility toward another employee, and federal and state law considers it a form of discrimination. This could include physical acts, verbal statements, denigrating jokes, written or graphic materials, negative stereotyping, or inappropriate slurs. Sexual harassment in particular pertains to sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or physical sexual gestures. Bottom line - the harasser makes his or her target feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
How Can You Prevent Harassment?

Unfortunately, harassment is more common than it should be today. In Illinois, employers with fifteen or more employees are subject to anti-discrimination laws, including prohibitions on harassment. However, employers with only one employee are subject to prohibitions on sexual harassment. Regardless of the number of employees, all employers should take precautions because courts often liberally construe the definition of "employer" in discrimination and harassment cases.  
Employers can proactively prevent harassment and set up a reasonable defense to harassment claims by doing the following: 

  • Train your managers to identify harassing conduct and respond quickly to it. Management needs to be sensitive to potential discrimination issues in the workplace and set a tone for a clean and professional environment.

  • Put in place clear policies and procedures concerning harassment and discrimination. Either in an employee handbook or in distributed written policies, state that harassment and discrimination are prohibited in the workplace. Additionally, define harassing conduct. This puts employees on notice that you are holding them to clear professional standards. All employees have the right to feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.

  • Put in place a clear complaint procedure, and detail it in your employee policies. Employees need to feel comfortable reporting what they may perceive as harassing conduct. Identify a person or group of people who will be available for workplace complaints. This may be a supervisor or manager, but it also should include other individuals in case an employee needs to complain about his or her supervisor or manager.

  • When and if an employee complains about harassment, act quickly to investigate the complaint and to provide a remedy. Investigate complaints by interviewing parties and witnesses. Document all investigations, and retain any notes of interviews. Affirm that you want the employee to feel safe and comfortable at work, and update him or her about the status of the investigation.  

For further information about workplace harassment contact Karuna Brunk.


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