Employer liability for sexual harassment by a supervisor

Business owners and managers in Louisiana and elsewhere often deal with the complaints and concerns of their employees. While this is frequently a part of the normal course of business, other situations involve more pressing matters. When employees believe that they might be a victim of sexual harassment by a supervisor, this does not only potentially place liability on the supervisor named but could also result in employer liability as well.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits harassment of any employee based on their race, color, sex, religion or nationality. Harassment in the workplace can occur when any discriminatory treatment based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information takes place.

In order to be considered harassment, the behavior in question must be sufficiently frequent or severe enough to generate a hostile work environment, or result in a tangible employment action, such as hiring, firing, issuing a promotion or a demotion.

Even if the matter of sexual harassment does not lead to a tangible employment action, an employer will be liable unless they can prove that they exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly address and remedy the harassment occurring and the employee unreasonably failed to complain to management or avoid harm otherwise.

In order to prevent or correct situations of harassment, an employer should take steps to establish a policy prohibiting harassment in the workplace, distribute this information to all employees and take steps to enforce these policies. Additionally, all these policies and procedures to address sexual harassment and harassment in general in the workplace should in in writing.

While there are ways to avoid employer liability in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace, employers should understand what steps they could take if employment litigation occurs following an action involving the sexual harassment of an employee by a supervisor. This will not only protect the rights and interests of the employer but also those of the employee as well.

Source: Eeoc.gov, "Questions and Answers for Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors," accessed June 6, 2016

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