No one ever wants to talk about this subject...it's almost taboo. Eh....you keep quiet, sweep it under the rug....ssssshhhhhh. In recent news, it seems the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain have brought this to the forefront. It must stink as a politico to have this interfere with your campaign. For our firms, it is important that we understand harassment issues and the effects it may have - interference with firm operations, negative effect on employees, loss of productivity and of course, exposure and liability.
Harassing conduct is unlawful when based on a protected category (the State of New Jersey has 12 protected categories), where the conduct would not have occurred but for the employee's protected class and the conduct is severe or pervasive.
Sexual harassment is unsolicited, unwelcomed. It may be conduct of a physical nature, a verbal nature, a non-verbal nature or non-sexual conduct based on gender. Victims of harassment are usually women, however, men can also be victims. Harassers can be enployees, supervisors, clients, vendors, members of same protected category. It can happen in the workplace, work related events or other locations if related to work.
If your Firm has an anti-harassment policy in the handbook, great! Have it reviewed by Counsel to ensure it is accurate and up to date. If your Firm has nothing in place because of a "it can never happen to me" mentality.......get your head out of the sand!
What can you do to prevent and address harassment as a Firm?
- Conduct seminars and training
- Instill a comprehensive and well-communicated policy
- Provide an effective complaint procedure
- Conduct prompt, thorough and effective investigations
- Take appropriate remedial action
- Confidentiality on a need-to-know basis
Employees need to feel comfortable bringing something like this to the attention of management without fear of retaliation against them. The victim should be encouraged to lodge a complaint, and not made to feel belittled for coming forth.