As a business owner, it is your duty to ensure a comfortable working environment for all of your employees under legal liability on both a state and federal level. You may be responsible for your employees’ action if they do not abide by legal standards or your workplace policies. A comfortable working environment includes: zero tolerance for workplace harassment (sexual and employment discrimination), in addition to an employment handbook that details company policies and applicable state and federal laws.
Workplace harassment is defined as a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Workplace harassment takes place when there is unwelcome conduct from an employer or coworkers based on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age (40 or older) marital status, family status, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition or genetic information.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual physical or verbal conduct in the workplace. There are two categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Both of these have different legal implications.
Quid Pro Quo harassment normally results with a tangible employment decision based upon the employee’s acceptance or rejection of unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Additionally, it can also result from unwelcome conduct that is of a religious nature. This kind of harassment is generally committed by someone who can effectively make or recommend formal employment decisions (such as termination, demotion, or denial of promotion) that will affect the victim. For example, when a manager denies a promotion to a subordinate who refuses sexual advances or when preferential treatment or a promotion is awarded to the subordinate if he/ she sexually cooperates then quid pro quo harassment has taken place.
A hostile environment can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct causes the workplace atmosphere to be intimidating, hostile, or offensive. For example, a hostile work environment can include: discussing sexual activities, telling inappropriate jokes, touching, displaying sexual or racial pictures, using indecent gestures, using crude or inappropriate language, and so on.
Federal law forbids sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964. Title VII covers employers who employ, or have employed, 15 or more employees for each working day in 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
California State Law
Sexual harassment is illegal under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Sexual harassment protections extend to applicants, employees, unpaid interns, professional relationships and independent contractors.
Determination of a Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment is determined if there is requests for sexual favors, sexual touching, offensive language, and inappropriate posters/ pictures in the workplace. This conduct must be frequent and severe that creates a hostile and/ or offensive working environment for employees.
Both the employees and employer can be held liable depending on the actions or inactions of everyone involved.
The following are steps you should take to ensure a law-abiding and comfortable working environment:
Provide sexual harassment training - California employers of 50 or more employees, including those outside California, are required to provide supervisors within the state of California with two hours of sexual harassment training every two years. Training must include a component on the prevention of abusive conduct.
Prevent harassment and correct harassment - California employers have a duty to prevent harassment in the workplace and promptly correct any occurring harassment. This protects employers from liability and ensures a comfortable working environment.
Develop company policies - California employers must have a written harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention policy that meets the state law requirements as well.
Form an employee handbook - Upon developing company policies, California employers should form an employee handbook. This handbook should include information regarding company culture, policies and procedures. Employees can refer back to an employee handbook if they have questions or concerns about the workplace environment or if something unlawful is taking place. Employers must distribute the company handbook to an employee upon his/ her hire, and it is recommended that employees be required to confirm agreement by signing and returning a portion to employer.
By following the above steps and maintaining a professional working environment, you will ensure a comfortable environment for your employees and the workplace. Businesses in California have very strict employment laws to follow and without guidance from someone who keeps up to date with the changes even the most careful business owner can be violating the law. A.L. Harvey Law has 13 years experience protecting our clients from liability by advising and providing training for harassment and employment matters.
Please contact A.L. Harvey Law today for harassment training, developing company policies, writing an employee handbook, and more. Click here, or email our offices at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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