2017 was a watershed year for the publicity of sexual harassment claims. Time Magazine even named its “Person of the Year” as the Silence Breakers. Business owners should expect those claims to become even more prominent in 2018 as the masses, not just celebrities, begin to break their silence as well. Just yesterday, I saw a headline about a sexual harassment case locally involving two female teenagers that decided to come forward. In years past, I would say most teenagers would have feared bringing a sexual harassment claim. But this trend is here to stay and that’s undoubtedly a good thing overall for our workplaces.
Employers have an obligation to prevent sexual and other forms of harassment in the workplace. At times employees will screw up but an employer must be prepared. Some ways to avoid harassment claims include the following:
- Have a written policy against harassment which should include an anti-retaliation provision for those employees who report harassment.
- Provide and communicate in writing multiple channels for your complaint procedure. Employees should be able to report harassment to more than one person within the company. The complaint process should be clearly defined in your employment manual.
- Make sure you train supervisors each year and require supervisors to report harassing conduct.
- Once notified of harassing conduct – take immediate action to investigate fully.
- Do not retaliate against employees that make a complaint.
- Discipline or terminate the offender as appropriate.
Also on this subject I saw an informative post from Marvin Kirsner of Greenberg Traurig that sexual harassment settlements with nondisclosure agreements will not be deductible under the new tax law. This is definitely something to keep in mind when settling such lawsuits. Of note, attorneys’ fees will also not be deductible if nondisclosure agreements are used in the settlement.