Heightened Awareness Raises Sexual Harassment Exposure
Recent high-profile sexual harassment cases in the government, entertainment, and news industries is raising awareness of this serious issue throughout the country. This increased focus makes it more important than ever for employers to review their sexual harassment policies and procedures, along with mandated training, to ensure they are up to date. Sexual harassment allegations bring unfavorable publicity to organizations. When investigation of the allegations shows gaps in policy, a lack of enforcement or unresponsiveness to reported incidents, or failure to conduct required training, organizations can be exposed to extremely costly claims.
Since AB 1825 was enacted in 2004, California law has required all employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training and education to each supervisory employee once every two years. The statute established a minimum threshold for training and education, and emphasized that employers may provide training and education beyond that required by the statute to prevent and correct sexual harassment and discrimination. The aim of the mandated supervisory training is to prevent inappropriate behavior that leads to sexual harassment as well as educating supervisors and managers on their responsibilities relating to reported sexual harassment in their workplace. This year, Governor Brown signed into law SB 396, which requires mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to include a component regarding gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, effective January 1, 2018.
In addition to the required and supplemental training, employers must have clear written policies that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in their workplace. These policies also need to be clearly communicated to employees, and should be readily available in the employee handbook. Employee rights under federal and state antidiscrimination and sexual harassment laws must be prominently displayed in an accessible location along with other statutory employment postings.
Finally, employers have a legal duty to promptly investigate any reported sexual harassment and hostile workplace allegations that become known to them. Every layer of supervision and management needs to take these reports seriously, understand their responsibilities and follow established written procedures when they become aware of an allegation, including the importance of communicating the report immediately to the organization’s human resources department. Together with organizational policy and training, ensuring that reporting, follow up, and investigation procedures are followed serves as the best protection for an employer against sexual harassment liability.
If you have questions about sexual harassment prevention and compliance, or need information about available resources and risk management best practices, please contact your local Keenan representative.
About Trina Canton
Trina Caton is Assistant Vice President in Keenan’s Loss Control Department and she is based in our Rancho Cordova office. Trina directs and oversees Loss Control internal operations/resources of the department statewide. She has over 20 years of experience and is dedicated to making workplaces safer.