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How to Handle Sexual Harassment in the Workplace as an Employer

In Massachusetts, employers with six or more employees are legally required to adopt a written policy against sexual harassment. Massachusetts requires more than the federal statute thus the focus of this article is on state standards, which meet the minimum federal requirements. The state statute requires the following information to be covered in the policy:

• a statement that sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful;

• a statement that it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint of sexual harassment, or for cooperating in an investigation of a complaint of sexual harassment;

• a description and examples of sexual harassment

• a statement of the potential consequences for employees who are found to have committed sexual harassment;

• a description of the process for filing internal complaints about sexual harassment and the work addresses and telephone numbers of the person or persons to whom complaints should be made; and

• the identity of the appropriate state and federal employment discrimination enforcement agencies and instructions as to how to contact such agencies.

It is further advised that there is a policy that prohibits sexual content via voicemail, e-mail, graphics, downloaded material or websites in the workplace. These policies must be presented to employees prior or simultaneous to the time the employee begins working. The employee should sign an acknowledgment that it received the policy upon hiring or starting work and again annually. The policy should also be posted in the workplace.

A proper sexual harassment policy will have a formal complaint procedure. There should be designated persons to receive complaints. An employer should never discourage the filing of a complaint or require a complainant to first file a complaint with the MCAD or EEOC. Furthermore, an employer should never require the complainant to confront the alleged perpetrator. An employee should also never discourage a complainant from filing a complaint with the MCAD or EEOC or from cooperating with an internal investigation or one by the MCAD or EEOC.

A complaint should always be followed by a fair and confidential investigation, even if the employee requests no investigation should occur. There should also be interim measures during the investigative process to separate the complainant from the alleged harasser during the investigation period.

Any determination should be written that detail the investigation and explain the conclusions reached. If there is a determination that sexual harassment has occurred the employer should take immediate action. The action should prevent any further harassment and ensure it does not resume, and that no retaliation has occurred. Immediate action requires prompt and proper disciplinary action against the offender and, if appropriate, training of said employee. Lastly, the complainant should be restored any lost benefit or opportunity as a result of the harassment.

Contact an employment attorney for assistance reviewing, updating or creating a sexual harassment policy that provides a thorough procedure for complaints, investigation, determination and remediation. An employment attorney can also assist you with training and educating your employees. For a consultation regarding your sexual harassment policy contact us at info@cascanettlaw.com.

How to Handle Sexual Harassment in the Workplace as an Employee

Since every situation and person is different, you should act in a manner that makes you feel the most comfortable, supported, and safe.

If you believe you are being sexually harassed, you should always consult your employee handbook or policy and follow the procedure.  You should also put your complaint in writing and take notes on the details of the harassment.  The details should include information such as the date, time, and place of the incident.  Your notes should also include any witnesses and what was said and/or done during the incident. If the harassment was via a digital format, you should save a digital copy as well as a physical copy, if possible.

If you feel comfortable and safe confronting your harasser you should:

  1. Explain what behavior you feel is harassment, but be specific.
  2. Tell the harasser that the attention you are receiving and/or that their behavior is bothering you and making you uncomfortable.
  3. Then ask him/her/them to stop.
  4. You should also make a detailed note of this contact.
  5. Even though you have attempted to deal with this matter directly, you should still tell a supervisor, manager, human resource personnel, or another coworker of the steps you have taken in addition to the issue for your complaint.
  6. You can also contact an EEOC or MCAD counselor to discuss your rights even if you do not wish to file a complaint.
  7. You should continue to do a good job at work and keep copies of any reviews, evaluations, notes, memos or emails indicating you are doing a good job.

 

If you do not feel comfortable or safe confronting your harasser you should:

  1. Report it to a designated person as indicated in your employee handbook or policy. You should also tell a co-worker.
  2. Make a detailed note of your reporting the complaint.
  3. You can also contact an EEOC or MCAD counselor to discuss your rights even if you do not wish to file a complaint.
  4. Should you wish to file a formal complaint as a result of the harassment you have 180 days (approx. 6 months) to file with the EEOC or 300 days to file with the MCAD.
  5. Don’t be afraid to seek support from family and friends as this is a difficult situation to deal with.
  6. Continue to do a good job at work and keep copies of any reviews, evaluations, notes, memos or emails indicating you are doing a good job.

 

If you are being harassed at work and believe your rights have been violated you should consult an employment and/or civil rights lawyer.  The state and federal agencies that handle discrimination (the MCAD and the EEOC) also contain valuable information on their websites.  For a consultation regarding your right to be free from harassment contact us at info@cascanettlaw.com.

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