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Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Sexual harassment is any sexual conduct or advance in the workplace that makes someone feel intimidated or creates a an offensive, uncomfortable, hostile working environment. Business owners can be faced with sexual harassment lawsuits stemming from employee actions as well as their own. Employers should be especially concerned with protecting their personal financial futures and wealth from employee related workplace incidents.

Sexual harassers can be male or female and statistics show that same-sex harassment on the job is growing as well. This is a very sensitive legal arena that can become quicksand for managers and business owners. Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination which is a violation of federal law, as well as state and local laws.

The two most common drivers of sexual harassment lawsuits are when a manager makes advances or demonstrates elicit conduct to a subordinate that affects decisions related to that employee. This comes in the form of blackmail; a subordinate is offered employee benefits or opportunities based on their response to an unwelcome advance by a person of authority. The opposite of this is when a subordinate employee rejects an unwelcome advance and is faced with negative conditions in the workplace.

The wildcard harassment type is hostile environment harassment which means an employee’s work performance is effected by unwelcome advances, conduct or behaviors that create uncomfortable work environments. These occurs from any type of physical conduct, suggestive sexual comments or gestures, elicit jokes, pornography or other abusive behavior in the workplace. This doesn’t necessarily mean that conduct has to be overtly sexual in nature to qualify as discriminatory and unlawful.

Proving a hostile work environment requires some checks which include the conduct’s severity and frequency, whether it was merely offensive, humiliating or physically threatening, whether the offender is a supervisor or co-worker and whether the harassment effected the employee’s job performance. Courts generally require a pattern of harassing conduct rather than a one-time incident to justify a hostile working environment charge.

Employer Liability

There are established parameters set by the US Supreme Court to determine when the employer will be held responsible for the actions of their employees. If the workplace conduct results in an employee losing his or her job, impeding advancement / promotion or being reassigned, employers will be held responsible.

When there is no tangible actions, employers can avoid being held liable if preventative measures were implemented and the employee failed to take advantage of corrective opportunities. This comes in the form of a sexual harassment policy, policy training as well as prompt and thorough complaint investigation procedures in the workplace.

Asset Protection from Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

A business owner cannot control the words out of every employee’s mouth and every unwelcome gesture every time. So, the only sleep at night peace-of-mind protection you will find comes in the form of a personal asset protection plan that shields your wealth from future creditors and lawsuits. We offer end-to-end asset protection planning, strategies and legal tools to prevent your financial future from being targeted in a lawsuit.

How to Avoid Sexual Harassment Liability

When it comes to determining whether or not the employer can be held liable for sexual harassment allegations in the workplace will largely depend on how the employer responds to it. We have prepared a list of things a manager must do in the event of a harassment complaint.

  1. Involve another manager or superior as well as human resources
    As a manager it’s pertinent that you inform senior management and let HR know that you have received a sexual harassment allegation.
  2. Use neutral language
    When speaking about an allegation, do not volunteer any legal labels, such as saying “that’s harassment” when listening to a complaint, for example. Use terms like “conduct” and when referring to the offender, use their name, avoid such terms as the “harasser”.
  3. Do not amplify the complaint
    Prior to any investigation remain neutral especially with your language choices. As a manager it’s important to take a complaint serious and be empathetic. This can be done without complicating the situation. Use supportive language such as “I know this is difficult and thank you for brining it to my attention…” If a manager suggests that a complaint is true/false through his words, for example “if that’s true, it’s really bad”, an employee could suggest that s/he is lying or the statement isn’t entirely true.
  4. Do not touch the complainant
    It might seem like a good idea to offer support or console a person who is upset about being offended, a simple hug or hand on an arm could land you defendant status in a harassment lawsuit.
  5. Avoid jokes or humor
    Defusing the situation with a light joke or humor is a common mistake. Treat the complaint like a serious situation and respond with professionalism.
  6. Don’t make it about you or your time
    There’s no good time to volley a complaint and simply mentioning that your schedule is already busy or that you don’t have time at the moment is a natural individual response, however it could be an amplifier when trying to minimize employer liability.
  7. Don’t deny harassment in the complaint
    When listening to a complaint, it may seem obvious to you that the allegation does not sound like harassment, however your place is to listen and report, not to talk, advise or offer your opinion.
  8. Do not suggest blame
    If an employee is reporting misconduct in the workplace, do not ask or suggest that the complainant “asked for it” or was participating willfully during the incident or it could land you in hot water as well.
  9. Stay with the complaint
    Do not encourage the employee to talk with someone else or pursue individual action through the police or a government agency. An employee could feel as though they were not taken seriously or nobody cared to listen which could make resolution more difficult.
  10. Promote correct action
    Do not ask if the complainant talked with the offender first, take the time to listen and treat the situation with dignity and respect.

Anytime an employee reports or complains of harassment in the workplace, you must respond seriously and professionally. Following these simple things can help lower the employer liability of workplace incidents.

What employers need to know

Your first line of defense is preventative management actions. HR policies, training, employee agreements and a clearly defined process for resolution are things that every employer should maintain.

Employees are suing more often now than ever, winning more lawsuits and being awarded larger settlements. A myriad of factors contribute to this changing statistic, today’s economic conditions make losing a job a much bigger deal than before. Attorneys know this and take this initiative when marketing to employees claiming big payouts with no cost and zero risk. No employer wants to be locked into litigation and take on the stress of a lawsuit, which is often leveraged by attorneys for quick settlements.

There are “quick grab” rackets that happen with employee liability lawsuits. Typically an employer will receive a demand letter threatening a civil and/or EEOC action that can result in several hundred thousand dollars in damages. The same letter will have an immediate settlement offer if paid immediately. Figures will be thrown around suggesting that the average judgment for sexual harassment verdict is over $500,000, with immediate settlement amount offers of $25,000 – $30,000.

The immediate settlement offer might appear attractive to avoid costly litigation and defense of a civil or EEOC claim and even in the event of no wrongdoing, employers can feel forced into these resolutions. Knowing that legal fees can easily topple six figures, the choice of avoiding the stress and financial uncertainty becomes priority.

We have seen legal situations go haywire from lack of HR planning, management practices and, of course, an employer with exposed assets that come under fire from a civil suit. Asset protection only works if you choose to properly implement a protection plan that safeguards your wealth from lawsuits and creditors.