SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE IDD WORKPLACE
Handling complaints of employee sexual harassment according to recognized guidelines is the right thing to do for your staff, your company, your clients and your pocket.
The Dallas News recently published a report that a home care provider won a financial settlement lawsuit against her former employers for failing to protect her from sexual harassment then firing her when she reported it. The plaintiff claimed she was inappropriately touched and repeatedly harassed by a patient’s son in the client’s home where she worked. She said the company failed to act even after she presented the owners with a recording of the man’s suggestive remarks. The company also refused to honor her requests to be reassigned, and eventually fired her when she filed a police report.
Sexual harassment complaints are serious!!
Do NOT ignore them – Federal law demands they are handled immediately!
According to the EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) Sexual Harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal law that applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Victims have 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC. However individual state laws vary; many having no minimum employee requirements and some extending the time for victims to file a complaint. It is wise for all companies to abide by these rules because protecting the people who work for you is the morally correct thing and people work better when they aren’t having to routinely evade harassers.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. However this is not required and it should be remembered that many staff (especially lower paid staff eg direct care givers) who may be vulnerable to harassment might also be fearful of repercussions should they complain and therefore not be comfortable taking this step.
The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.
Keeping records of all relevant facts, actions and related material subsequent to complaints being made is critical.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.
It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment could potentially occur in any location and to anyone. Workers who give care in routinely safe yet isolated and unmonitored environments, such as ‘Own Home/Family Home’ situations, can occasionally be exposed to unacceptable behavior. Staff working in these environments should be told this is not acceptable, who (within your company) to report any such incidents to and strongly encouraged do so promptly. There should also be clear and easily accessible HR policies and procedures on how such matters are handled within your enterprise. It should also be made clear that your staff will be given a fair hearing and both federal and state laws followed.
While these unfortunate events cannot be completely prevented; once reported they should be taken seriously and appropriate steps taken immediately. As an owner or executive make it your business to be informed about these events so you and/or HR can ensure that they are handled appropriately. You don’t want the first that you hear of such an occurrence at your company to be a notice of formal complaint from either the state Workforce Commission or the EEOC.
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