Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Small Business Shouldn’t Ignore the Risks

Date: October 05, 2018

Sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement have received lots of news coverage of late. While most of the headlines focus on big-name companies, illegal harassment occurs in businesses of all sizes. Small businesses who ignore the risks associated with not preventing and stopping discrimination, including sexual harassment, in the workplace, risk financial and reputational devastation.

Keep reading for more on the perils of ignoring harassment in the workplace and three steps employers can take to protect employees and the business.

Harassment Litigation and #MeToo Legislation

Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced preliminary Fiscal Year 2018 sexual harassment data – highlighting its significant work this year to address workplace harassment. Based on preliminary data, employers should be concerned:
• The EEOC filed 66 harassment lawsuits, including 41 that included allegations of sexual harassment. That reflects more than a 50 percent increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over fiscal year 2017.
• In addition, charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from fiscal year 2017.
• Overall, the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment through litigation and administrative enforcement in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.

In addition to an unprecedented number of sexual harassment lawsuits, according the National Conference of State Legislatures, 2018 has brought an unprecedented amount of legislation on sexual harassment: 32 states introduced over 125 pieces of legislation. Proposed legislation covers a number of topics from increased penalties, mandatory employee training, and required no-harassment policies. California and New York, in particular, enacted comprehensive and far-reaching legislation that impacts private sector employers of all sizes.

Action Items for Small Business

As states react to the #MeToo movement by passing anti-harassment legislation, small businesses should consider taking the following steps to proactively protect their employees from unlawful discriminatory conduct, including harassment:
• Adopt and enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. To assist small businesses with creating such policies, NFIB makes available on its website a free model employee handbook, which includes an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.
• Develop or revise a complaint reporting system to increase understanding and accessibility among employees. With regards to reporting, businesses should designate more than one person who can receive and investigate these claims in case the primary person designated is the one charged with harassment. Create a culture where employees feel comfortable coming to the owner and supervisors if they feel something has happened
• Train all employees on ways to promote fair, civil, and harassment-free workplaces. For more information on training, employees can visit the EEOC website.

Legal action surrounding harassment and discrimination can be devastating for a small business—both financially and in terms of employee morale. So policies should be in place not only to ensure proper behavior in the workplace but also to make reporting of harassment to supervisors as fast and easy as possible.
For more tips, visit NFIB.com or contact the NFIB Small Business Legal Center at 800-NFIB-NOW.

Updated October 5, 2018

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