Properly Addressing Sexual Harassment Claims is Crucial Step is Addressing Overall Issue

By Mike Moore

If you have paid attention to the news recently, you know that sexual harassment has been a hot button issue.  While most of the stories you have heard involve politics, entertainment and media, those claims are starting to be seen in all industries.

Employers in Arkansas have recently received correspondence from employees who have been gone from the workforce for several years relating experiences of alleged sexual harassment.  It is imperative that employers properly address these allegations and that they insure proper training of employees to prevent or mitigate current claims.

The EEOC suggests adopting anti-harassment policies and conducting training making   employers go farther by developing hotlines to report harassment.  The smart employer adopts a carefully crafted anti-harassment policy, which it updates regularly, and conducts periodic anti-harassment training for all employees.  

Given the current situation, it is imperative to have appropriate harassment policies supported by training programs which actually engage employees to prevent or curtail future harassment. In other words, the best training not only focuses on limiting liability but also on curbing harassing behavior in the first place.  Training topics may include examples of conduct considered to be sexual harassment, steps to address sexual harassment, and identifying retaliation and how to avoid it.  Training should be interactive and upper management’s buy-in and participation should be showcased.  

Having a team of trained employees who can address specific complaints can prevent harassment and keep you out of court.  It is important that supervisors report any and all incidents of harassment.  Covering up or ignoring complaints is often the worst possible scenario.  Companies wishing to avoid potential liability must ask themselves, “How can we communicate to employees that their voice will be heard?”  This includes clearly communicating the channels through which employees may report allegations of sexual harassment and having systems in place to respond to those allegations. 

Lastly, employers should monitor legal developments and ensure that their policies and training reflect the most current legal requirements.  For instance, a number of states are considering limits or the use of non-disclosure agreements and Congress has now made payment for such agreements to be a non-deductible business expense.  Thus, employers should be cautious in the use of non-disclosure agreements when resolving sexual harassment complaints.

The information provided above is created by Attorney Mike Moore of Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP. Mike is a partner in the firm’s Labor and Employment Practice Group with an emphasis on employment discrimination defense. He specializes in litigation of discrimination cases, wage-hour matters, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, FMLA and employee and supervisor training. He is also a frequent speaker on a variety of employment law topics.  Mike has extensive experience before the EEOC and the Wage-Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor, as well as litigation experience in both federal and state courts. He is a member of the Pulaski County, Arkansas and American Bar Associations.

This is not a substitute for legal advice and should be considered for general guidance only. For more information or if you have further questions, please contact one of our Labor and Employment Attorneys.