We supports the #metoo movement and the positive effect on women’s rights. However, for business owners supporting this cause can also mean an increase in demand letters, lawsuits and other claims that are encouraged by the movement. This is why it is so important for employers to have correct protocols and know how to deal with sexual harassment allegations. The first step is understanding the law.
Illegal sexual harassment in the workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act explain that workplace sexual harassment is illegal. Without getting into the legal minutia, essentially, any sex based verbal, visual or physical contact, along with any unwelcome sexual advances that create an offensive, hostile or intimidating work environment is against both state and federal law.
In our state, the illegal work environment does not need to be based on sexual desire. It could be based sex or gender-identity or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment could also be based on childbirth, pregnancy or even a related medical condition.
Legal requirements and recommendations
First, if an Orange County employer has over 50 employees, California law requires sexual harassment training. Specifically, all employees that supervise other employees, every two years, they must be provided with at least two hours of training on this topic.
Second, all employers should have a sexual harassment policy because, depending on the situation, sexual harassment accusers must follow these guidelines for reporting prior to filing a lawsuit. Complaints should be confidential, done in writing and records of each incident should be documents, with dates, times and who was involved or witnesses the alleged incident. There should be a third-party, independent investigation conducted, although, an internal investigation may also be appropriate depending on the situation. Crafting these documents and procedures should be done in conjunction with an attorney.
State and federal enforcement agencies
Depending on the situation, employers can expect contact from either the California Department of Fair Employment or Housing or federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. DFEH protects Californians from state employment discrimination, and the EEOC enforces enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, regardless of which agency was contacted, each agency cross-files with the other agency, so contact from one will likely mean an employer will be contacted by the other. Again though, at this point, employers should contact their attorney to make sure they comply with the process.