Sexual harassment continues to be a problem in the workplace. In addition to the financial impact of litigation and defending against complaints, employers must also deal with the decline in morale, team productivity and safety when an organization tolerates or ignores harassment. Sexual harassment is an issue that no California employer can afford to ignore.
Employers can help reverse the costs of workplace harassment by establishing well-defined policies and providing training to all employees. The benefits of training include:
- Ensuring a safe environment where employees can focus on providing maximum productivity.
- Offering a common framework of knowledge and skills that establishes a standard of respectful business behavior and discourages harassment.
- Helping build a defensible position if an organization receives a harassment claim or lawsuit.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) adopted new regulations in 2016 under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). A brief summary of new regulations includes:
- Employers must create detailed written policies for preventing harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
- Specific definitions are provided for gender expression, gender identity, sex, sex stereotype and transgender persons.
- An individualized assessment is required to determine the need for reasonable accommodation.
- Harassment due to pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related condition is defined; and eligibility for up to four months of leave per pregnancy is outlined.
- The duty to accommodate an individual’s religion is clarified.
- Anti-bullying training requirements for California employers with fifty or more employees have been added.
In order to provide the most effective harassment training possible as well as remain in compliance with state law, the following are important elements to consider:
- Focus on both the behavioral and legal definitions of harassment, giving managers and employees a better opportunity to recognize and stop it.
- Emphasize prevention by empowering participants with the communication skills to stop harassment throughout the organization.
- Increase awareness of the high costs of harassment, both financial and emotional, at all levels.
- Provide practical examples and answer all questions to clear up any potential confusion.
- Emphasize that all forms (race, age, religion, etc.) of harassment are illegal.
Preventing workplace harassment is not only required by law but also makes good business sense.