Employers may be held liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by their employees, agents, and customers when they fail to investigate and take reasonable steps to prevent such harassment. A claim of this kind is proven with the following evidence:
- That the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant, applied to the defendant for a job, or was a person providing services under a contract with the defendant;
- That the plaintiff was subjected to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in the course of employment;
- That the defendant failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment, discrimination, or retaliation;
- That the plaintiff was harmed; and
- That the defendant's failure to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment, discrimination, or retaliation was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.
Reasonable steps to prevent harassment should include implementation of an effective anti-harassment policy, preferably one that is communicated in writing to the employees. A proper investigation into a harassment claim should include prompt witness interviews, including interviews with the alleged victim and the alleged harasser. employers should consider retaining an independent investigator for this purpose to ensure that the investigation is conducted fairly and thoroughly. In the event harassment is proven by the investigation, the employer should take immediate corrective action. Such action can include prompt discipline, coaching or retraining of the harassment, immediate separation of the harasser and the victim, and crafting a suitable remedy for the victim. Such remedies may include monetary compensation, return of lost wages, and retraction of any adverse employment actions taken by the harasser or the employer against the victim (demotions, salary decreases, reprimands, performance improvement plans, etc.).
Not only is sexual harassment illegal. The law also prohibits:
- Racial harassment
- Religious harassment
- Age-based harassment
- Harassment based on disability
- Harassment based on ethnicity or national origin