An Employer’s Guide to Handling Sexual Harassment Claims

Uncomfortable woman with man touching hand

As people’s mindsets continue to evolve and modernize, more and more employers are making a point of reprimanding sexual harassment claims more harshly. The way your company handles instances of sexual harassment in the workplace can often define your reputation and help you retain high-quality employees. Whether you settle situations internally or need legal help from an employment attorney, figuring out how to navigate these delicate and often nuanced workplace sexual harassment situations requires some guidance.

The #MeToo movement has exposed and toppled even the most prestigious and well-respected places of employment worldwide simply because leadership won’t take workplace sexual harassment seriously. As a result, establishing a productive process for handling these types of problems is crucial. Follow this comprehensive guide to settling sexual harassment claims in the workplace to create a safer and more productive environment for everyone in your organization and avoid any complicated legal battles for your business in the future.

What Constitutes Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Before you start building your company’s employee handbook to better handle sexual harassment claims, you need to understand what constitutes workplace sexual harassment in the first place. The Minnesota Human Rights Act outlines what sexual harassment is and how it creates a hostile work environment while also offering various protections for employees facing this serious problem in the workplace.

Signs of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Inappropriate jokes or sexual innuendos
  • Nonconsensual touching
  • Hugging, kissing, groping, or any other unwanted physical contact
  • Sexual favors in return for better pay or promotions
  • Relationships between leadership and low-level employees
  • Inappropriate written correspondence (texts, emails, etc.)
  • Taunting or threatening comments
  • Rape or sexual assault

Sexual harassment can be quite apparent at times but is also often more covert and difficult to catch. Inappropriate jokes and subtle touching can easily go unnoticed, while the power imbalance in relationships between leaders and lower-level employees creates a hostile work environment. Keep an eye out for the common signs of workplace sexual harassment to ensure staff members of all genders within your organization feel safe and comfortable in their workplace.

Handling Sexual Harassment Claims as an Employer

Business owners never like to hear that someone in their organization is experiencing sexual harassment. Not only does it create an unsafe and uncomfortable work environment for everyone in the organization, but it also wreaks havoc on your company’s professional reputation. Ignoring instances of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace can leave your company in a lot of legal hot water when lawsuits ensue.

That’s why crafting a reliable and easy-to-follow employee handbook with clear definitions of what is and isn’t okay to do at work will make handling workplace sexual harassment situations seamless and stress-free for employers. If the problem persists, you can always benefit from a business or employment attorney.

Follow the steps listed below to learn how to build a better employee handbook for your workplace, help combat the unfortunately all too common problem of workplace sexual harassment, and handle these situations properly if they ever arise. 

1. Provide Clear Policies

When perfecting your workplace rule book, the most important piece of the puzzle is providing clear and concise policies regarding sexual harassment for your staff to follow easily. There should never be any uncertainty surrounding your sexual harassment policies.

Instead, your guidelines should give your employees a better understanding of their options for reporting workplace harassment and help them find support during this challenging situation. Ensure you include a list of intolerable actions or misconduct, information on reporting sexual harassment, and to whom.

2. Investigate Claims Thoroughly

Everyone deserves to feel safe at work, so sexual harassment in the workplace is entirely unacceptable. Your employees rely on company leadership to keep their best interests in mind and make them feel comfortable and protected during – and even outside of – work hours. That’s why it’s so crucial to investigate all sexual harassment claims completely, even if they seem insignificant or unsubstantiated.

The best rule of thumb is to get to the bottom of things regardless of how you feel about the situation personally. Providing a thorough and objective investigation is an excellent way to put your employee’s minds at ease, ensuring them that you care about their well-being while also helping your organization stay away from any future lawsuits.

3. Maintain Detailed Records

An essential part of a thorough investigation into employee sexual harassment is the evidence. Maintaining detailed records of all written correspondence, evidence, and other crucial details is vital to uncover the truth. Examples of more information to keep on file include:

  • Complainants name
  • Name(s) of the accused
  • Date of the incident
  • Date complaint was filed
  •  Details of the alleged harassment
  • Any photos, videos, texts, or recordings of harassment
  • All emails, texts, and written communications
  • Additional legal documents such as nondisclosure agreements (NDAs)

Keeping accurate records of all communications and evidence ensures you’re covered if an employee decides to take legal action against your company or the accused employee.

4. Take Appropriate Action

If you find that claims of workplace sexual harassment are substantiated after a thorough internal investigation, it’s critical to take the correct action against the perpetrator. Defining your organization’s stance on sexual harassment in the workplace within your employee handbook ensures you have legal backup when terminating a staff member who breaches those rules. It’s also crucial to show support for the victim in this situation since all retaliatory actions are punishable by law. 

5. Avoid Retaliating

Just like workplace discrimination, retaliating against any employee who reports instances of sexual harassment or supports another coworker during their complaint is unlawful. You may not wrongfully terminate or otherwise retaliate against a worker simply because they are involved in a sexual harassment claim. Examples of retaliatory actions you must avoid include: 

  • Wrongful termination
  • Salary or scheduling cuts
  • Overlooked promotions or demotions
  • Changes to job duties
  • Applicant dismissal

6. Talk to Your Attorney

Your organization probably works tirelessly to eliminate internal issues and handle sexual harassment claims to the best of its ability, but sometimes, professional assistance is required. Consult with a business attorney knowledgeable in employment harassment cases to settle cases quickly outside of court.

Find Quality Legal Advice for Handling Sexual Harassment Claims

Even with strict regulations at work and a comprehensive employee handbook, avoiding instances of sexual harassment altogether is incredibly hard. In fact, sexual harassment is one of the most prevalent workplace issues we see women (or any gender) facing in almost every American industry.

When one of your employers or members of a leadership team exhibits aggressive or inappropriate behavior, it’s best to consult with a knowledgeable employment lawyer to protect your company from any liability. Contact our trusted team of attorneys at CJB Law today to craft a practical employee handbook and handle any sexual harassment claims that come your way successfully.