Resource:Sexual Harassment - Employment Practice Exposure

It is extremely important for public entities to implement and disseminate a clear no tolerance policy for sexual harassment and inform all employees of the available avenues of internal complaint.

Entities must also prepare themselves to promptly investigate all sexual harassment allegations and take appropriate remedial action to ensure harassment stops and discipline is administered.

This bulletin offers guidelines and procedures along with sample policy language to help public entities provide a harassment-free environment for all employees.

Updating Your Harassment Policy & Reporting Procedures

The first step is to review and update your anti-harassment policy and reporting procedures.  Consider the following guidelines for assistance:

  1. Is the policy written in plain, easy-to-understand language?
  2. Does the current policy define sexual harassment?
  3. Does the policy list examples for what may constitute sexual harassment? Examples of harassment include, but are not limited to:
    • Unwelcome sexual advances or request for favors.
    • Verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that adversely affects the employee’s employment terms or conditions.
    • Conduct that unreasonably creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
    • Express or implied offers of any business-related (i.e. raises or promotions) or non-business related benefits (i.e. gifts or trips) in exchange for sexual favors.
    • Threatening or taking adverse work-related action against an employee because that employee denied sexual advances or requests for sexual favors.
  4. Is same gender harassment prohibited?
    • It is a common misconception for people to think that males cannot sexually harass other men, as that is just “locker room” behavior.  Discrimination among members of the same sex as well as members of the opposite sex is illegal.
  5. Is third-party harassment prohibited?
    • Harassment committed by non-employees is strictly prohibited and not tolerated.
  6. Does the policy contain identifiable and understandable reporting procedure?
  7. Are several safe avenues of internal reporting available to all employees?
  8. Does the policy avoid any language that might discourage complaints?
    1. For instance, employees should not be required to directly confront the person(s) that may be the source of the complaint before utilizing any of the available internal reporting avenues.  Also, requiring employees to submit a complaint in writing or to be made to the chief officer may seem too cumbersome or threatening to the employee.
  9. Does the policy prohibit retaliation against individuals that make good faith allegations, or otherwise participate in an investigation?
  10. Does the policy ensure confidentiality to the maximum extent possible?
  11. Does the policy state that an investigation will take place and that the employee complaining of harassment will be informed of the results of the investigation?

Plan Implementation

Any policy that gathers dust on a shelf is of little use as a preventative or defensive measure.  Court rulings have made it clear that a policy ignored is tantamount to a finding of liability.  To ensure the implementation of your updated policy, consider the following:

  • Widely disseminate the policy to all locations.
  • Each employee should sign an acknowledgement form indicating:  (1) receipt of the policy, (2) comprehension of the no tolerance policy for sexual harassment, and (3) knowledge of the internal reporting procedures.
  • Institute a system for informing any new hires or transferred employees about the policy.
  • Review the policy at least annually or as frequently as required by your state’s law. 
    Train all supervisory personnel to properly deter, identify, address, and stop sexual harassment.
  • Make sexual harassment prevention and proper handling of complaints an essential job function for all supervisory personnel, and make these conditions part of the supervisor’s performance evaluation.
  • Ensure that a labor and employment attorney periodically reviews the policy.

What is an Investigation?

An investigation is when one or more designated persons try to determine the facts to the complaint.  Interviews with all parties of the complaint should be completed.  These designated persons should also interview any witnesses.  After the interviews, the individual(s) conducting the investigation should make a determination as to the facts.  If warranted, the determination should include disciplinary action.