Small Business Owners Must Understand Sexual Harassment Laws

sexual harassment, Naperville business law attorneyHarvey Weinstein, former film producer, has been formally charged with rape, criminal sex acts, sexual misconduct, and sex abuse. Since the allegations of long-term sexual harassment surfaced against him in 2017, many more victims of have reported their own abuse. If you own a business, it is imperative that you understand sexual harassment law and take steps to prevent harassing behavior.

As a business law attorney and a business owner, I understand that a sexual harassment lawsuit can be devastating to small businesses. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of being sued for sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment Defined

There are two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor, employer, or another person of authority offers workplace perks or continued employment in exchange for sexual favors. Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when sexual remarks or behavior are severe or persistent enough to interfere with work duties or create an abusive environment.

Prevent Sexual Harassment Before It Happens

Business owners should be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to sexual harassment. Teaching employees what type of behavior is acceptable at work and what is not is the first step in preventing such harassment. Additionally, employers should:

  • Include a sexual harassment policy as part of your employee handbook. Require employees to read and sign the handbook;
  • Create a procedure for handling sexual harassment complaints. Make sure employees understand what to do if they are sexually harassed;
  • Keep sexual harassment complaints confidential;
  • Ensure workspaces have a professional atmosphere and are free from sexually-suggestive pictures or media;
  • Encourage open communication. Employees should never be afraid to ask a co-worker or supervisor to stop the behavior which is offensive to them;
  • Make clear that retaliation against employees who report harassment will not be tolerated;
  • Conduct an immediate, thorough, and unbiased investigation into allegations of sexual harassment; and
  • Carry out direct and appropriate corrective action or discipline if you believe harassment has occurred.

Your Liability as a Business Owner

The importance of thoroughly investigating allegations of sexual harassment against your staff cannot be overstated. If an employee complains about sexual harassment and you fail to investigate, you can be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Usually, an employer is not liable for harassment between co-workers unless he or she did not take steps to stop the harassment.

Contact Us for Help

For sound legal guidance with any area of business law including business litigation, starting or buying a business, selling a business, or tax planning, contact an experienced Naperville business lawyer at The Gierach Law Firm. To schedule your confidential consultation, call (630) 756-1160 today.



Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Score Association