Woman being sexually harassed in the workplace

In the midst of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the way his behavior and contract was allegedly handled within his company, several questions and issues have arisen regarding how businesses and employees handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

What can businesses do not only to prevent harassment in the workplace, but also cope with it should it occur?

Businesses must create and facilitate a no tolerance atmosphere for sexual harassment. The best starting point is the Employee Handbook with sexual harassment policies and setting up safe havens for reporting of any incidents. Businesses need to make sure they establish clear and accessible open door policies for reporting. Having dedicated persons within the business who employees feel comfortable approaching with workplace issues is vital to providing such an environment.

Another issue that must be addressed is dealing with consensual relationships within the business. Businesses need to have direct discussions and get documentation from employees for known, consensual intra-workplace relationships to protect the business from future claims of harassment if those relationships fall apart.

If harassment occurs, businesses need to take immediate action to investigate each incident thoroughly and take appropriate action.  Taking appropriate action means that the business must consider the strength of the evidence, type of aggressive behavior, prior adverse action taken against victim employee by harasser and prior history of accused. Immediate termination, admonishment and accommodations are all possibilities depending on the situation. Requiring harassment education and training for a first time offender is also a possibility. The most important action for a business is to make every effort to make sure that the victim is protected and does not have any adverse action or treatment taken against him or her.

If someone has been sexually harassed at work, or thinks they have been/are being sexually assaulted, what should they do? Are there first steps?

For harassment, the first and most important thing is to document with dates, time, description and witnesses. The best way to do that is to email it or text it to yourself so that you have contemporaneous records. Make sure that the email is not your work email and that every email is saved properly. Depending on the way the company is structured, report it to Human Resources, tell the person to stop (preferably with witness) and/or report it to predator’s supervisor.

For clear and obvious sexual assault, call 911. Also document everything you can, including date, time, location, actions and other details. The details should include clothing, actions taken, conversation and whether others were present. For workplace assault, the human resource department needs to know about it immediately.

When should you seek the counsel of an attorney if you believe you are a victim of harassment in the workplace?

Contacting an attorney immediately can reap benefits. In addition to an attorney, the wounds from sexual harassment and sexual assault do not heal on their own. Seeking proper professional help and treatment is necessary to cope with the wounds.

What can an experienced attorney help you accomplish? And likewise, what can you accomplish on your own without an attorney?

An experienced attorney can help navigate protection at work and compensation for damages suffered. In addition, an experienced attorney can help guide the employee through documentation, witness gathering, and reporting decisions within the company.

On the employee’s own, documentation and proper reporting are the keys to future protection and claims.

The most important thing for employers and employees is that victims speak up. If you are a victim, you are likely not the only one. You could prevent others from becoming victims. As an employer, the earlier that behavior is discovered helps minimize potential claims. All employees and employers need to take sexual harassment very seriously and make sure that all employees are made to be as comfortable as possible to tell someone.

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Russ A. Brinson, business law attorney at Sodoma Law.

Russ Brinson Selected for Inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America 2018

Russ A. Brinson, business, employment attorney and mediator with Sodoma Law, P.C., has been selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® 2018

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