If an employee claims that they’ve suffered sexual harassment while working for you, it can be surprising and upsetting.
Remember, the law expects you to protect your employees from harassment, whether that is from their supervisors, co-workers or even your customers. Yet, however hard you try to prevent such things, you cannot watch over everything that people do.
There are two legal grounds people can use to bring a sexual harassment claim:
1. Quid pro quo harassment
“Quid pro quo” is a Latin term that means “something for something.” A single event can be enough in this case. The alleged harasser needs to have offered the employee something in exchange for favors of a sexual nature.
For example, if one of your managers suggested they could help an employee keep their job, get a promotion or obtain a raise in return for sleeping with them or even going out on a date with them, it could constitute sexual harassment under this concept.
2. Hostile work environment
Often there is nothing on offer. Rather, someone, or a group of people constantly do things that make an employee feel uncomfortable. If those things are of a sexual nature or based on the accuser’s gender, then they may have grounds to claim.
Examples could include sexually motivated comments about them or their appearance, or constantly belittling their abilities to do a particular thing because they are a man or a woman. They can also include physical pranks to do with the employee’s gender as well as actual physical contact, such as placing their hand on the employee’s shoulder a little too often.
You need to tread very carefully as an employer, as dismissing the employee’s claim or accusing the other party of harassment could both get you in trouble. Consider legal help to handle this delicate matter.