What are employer liability defenses for sexual harassment?

Unfortunately, the work environment is not always a comfortable and safe one. For some employees, he or she might experience uncomfortable situations. If an employee believes that he or she is a victim of sexual harassment, it is likely that they will report this to their employer or an outside reporting source. In these matters, employers should understand what constitutes sexual harassment and what defenses are available when being held liable in this type of employee action.

What is sexual harassment? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment occurs when an applicant or an employee believes that he or she was harassed based on their sex. This often includes unwelcomed sexual advances, verbal or physical harassment that is sexual in nature or requests for sexual favors.

Additionally, this type of harassment does not need to be of a sexual nature but could include offensive remarks about the employee's or applicant's sex. Victims of sexual harassment can be either a man or a woman, harassers could be either male or female and the victim and harasser could be the same sex or opposite sex.

What are employer liability defenses in a sexual harassment claim? Whether the claims are against the employer, a supervisor or a co-worker, an employer can take steps to either avoid employment litigation or make defenses if a suit is filed. Current policies in the work environment, modification or additions to policy or actions taken by the employer to address the claims of sexual harassment could serve as a defense.

Because an employer could face liability claims for sexual harassment occurring in the workplace, employers should be aware of the policy implemented in the workplace and well as their employer liability defense options. If an employee reports a claim of sexual harassment and an employer has acknowledged that claim and has taken action to remedy the situation, this could serve as a defense. In these matters, it is important that employers understand how to respond to these allegations and ways to resolve them.

Source: Eeoc.gov, "Sexual Harassment," accessed Nov. 24, 2015

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