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Knowledge Center Items Out of the Closet: Workplace Sexual Harassment in the Spotlight

Out of the Closet: Workplace Sexual Harassment in the Spotlight

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It first began with revelations that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein over the last 30 years allegedly sexually harassed and/or assaulted a line-up of young actresses. On the heels of this news, we then saw three executives stepping down at Amazon’s film and TV production division over sexual harassment claims, and hundreds of accusations made against director James Toback for unwanted sexual encounters. Then there was the announcement of MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin losing his book deal and TV jobs over sexual harassment claims, the parting of ways by fashion houses with photographer Terry Richardson over harassment allegations, and the firing of two execs from Fidelity Investments over similar claims.

From Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes to Weinstein and a host of other men in a position of power, workplace harassment has cast a wide shadow over industries across the board. Victims are speaking up and putting those who participate in this behavior on notice.

Employers: Take Notice

Most employers across the majority of industries have written policies on and procedures for reporting incidents of sexual harassment, and HR officials are required to investigate those claims. Yet, while recent decades have seen a cultural shift and more education to help minimize sexual harassment, a big gap between what should happen and what actually does still exists. It’s important, therefore, for companies of all sizes to look at their culture and revisit their policies and how affective they are when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.

First, let’s take a look at what sexual harassment is: Sexual harassment occurs when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to another employee against his or her wishes. Examples of harassment include: unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments and repartee; touching and any other bodily contact such as massaging or patting a coworker's back, grabbing an employee around the waist, or interfering with an employee’s ability to move; repeated requests for dates that are turned down or unwanted flirting; transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature; and displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters.

Businesses need to ensure zero tolerance for this type of behavior and make sure their policies are aligned with their stance and adhered to by the executive level and throughout the organization. It’s important that employers take every complaint seriously and that they demonstrate the appropriate steps were taken upon learning of harassment claims. In fact, demonstrating that an employer took immediate action and that the consequences for the perpetrator were severe, is also critical. When an employee complains to a supervisor, another employee, or the HR office, about sexual harassment, an immediate investigation of the charge should occur. Supervisors should immediately involve HR staff.

Also, please refer to our previous article on the subject for more details about the procedures that an employer should have in place. In addition to having strong best practices to deal with harassment and other workplace issues, EPLI insurance is a must for all businesses to address these types of exposures. RPS provides Employment Practices Liability Insurance solutions and can assist you with securing coverage for your clients. Contact us for more information.

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