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Have a Legal Question?
As an Employer, When is the Company Held Liable for Sexual Harassment?
Employers, whether they are small or large, have many responsibilities in the workplace and these responsibilities are not limited to taking stock of inventory or answering to shareholders. As an employer, you must not only treat your employees with respect and avoid discrimination, but you also have a duty to protect employees from each other. Even if an employer did not sexually harass an employee, they can still be held liable if a manager engages in sexual harassment, or employer failed to take effective action to stop an employee from harassing a co-worker.
Hostile Work Environment
An employer can be held liable for sexual harassment if they failed to take reasonable action to prevent harassment from taking place. For example, if an employer knew or should have known that certain employees were sexually harassing other employees, the employer has a legal obligation to intervene. While traditional sexual harassment training will not prevent harassment from taking place, it might reduce damages or limit the employer’s liability in sexual harassment cases, according to the New York Times. More successful measures might include civility training (teaching people how to behave as opposed to how not to behave), empowering bystanders to speak up, promoting more women, and encouraging or even requiring reporting.
When is the Perpetrator Considered to be the “Employer”?
If you are the sole owner of a small business that only has four employees, it is somewhat obvious that you are the sole employer. However, in large businesses, it is not so simple. If an employee claims that their employer made unwanted sexual advancements, engaged in quid pro quo sexual harassment, or sexually assaulted the employee, the employer will be held liable when one of the following parties commits the act:
- The president, CEO, or owner of the company can be held personally liable for sexual harassment that they engage in;
- Immediate supervisors who have authority over the victimized employee;
- Supervisors who engage in quid pro quo harassment, such as only providing a promotion for an employee if he/she sleeps with the supervisor.
If another employee or non-immediate supervisor committed the alleged sexual assault, the employer is still liable if he had reasonable notice of the harassment and failed to act, or could have reasonably anticipated that an employee might harass a co-worker. If the employer was aware that an employee engaged in prior harassment, and then engages in harassment in the future, this is something the employer should have reasonably anticipated.
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According to a recent ABC poll, 54 percent of women have experienced “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances,” 30 percent of women have experienced this behavior from male colleagues, and 25 percent of women said that these men had sway over their careers. Sexual harassment is a real threat to all types of businesses and employers. For assistance with a claim, call Goldman & Ehrlich today. We are eager to assist you throughout each step of your case.