Who’s Next? Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The #MeToo movement of recent months, combined with the almost daily allegations and investigation of high profile celebrities and politicians, is rapidly changing the public’s view of sexual harassment claims.

With sexual harassment now a trending topic of discussion, victims are feeling increasingly empowered to speak out, making sexual harassment claims in the workplace all that more prevalent.

While most employers have a sexual harassment policy in place, few actually know how to appropriately handle a claim once it arises.

To address this, PROXUS and Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia recently held a seminar at the PROXUS offices to explore what employers need to do to both prevent and address sexual harassment claims in the workplace.

Here are just a few of the key takeaways from the program (full recording available below):


Generally speaking, yes.

While there is no specific legislation that requires companies to have a sexual harassment policy in place, regulations from the EEOC as well as various case histories make clear that employers are responsible for taking steps to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs. This can include having a sexual harassment policy, conducting sexual harassment training with employees, establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, and taking quick and appropriate action when a complaint is filed. 


While sexual harassment can be severe or mild, it falls under two basic categories: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment.

In instances of Quid Pro Quo, a figure of authority makes sexual conduct a condition of employment. In this oftentimes blatant “this for that” situation, employees may feel obligated or coerced into complying with sexual requests to advance their career, earn more money, or receive a promotion or job offer.

Hostile Work Environment, on the other hand, can originate from anyone in the workplace, including managers, peers, independent contractors, customers and vendors. It can take numerous forms, including unwelcomed touching, propositions and flirtation, jokes and humor, leering, comments about attire, posters, emails and websites, and sexual questions or comments. The harassment can occur in or outside of the workplace, including at company sponsored events, non work-related events with coworkers, and on social media.


Sexual harassment complaints can be made in various ways, and employers need to take them seriously regardless of how they are presented. While written complaints often are the most straight-forward, they are rarely made this way. Instead, complaints are often made verbally, or can even be made through a third-party, anonymously, or through observation.

Regardless of how a complaint is presented, however, it is the employer’s responsibility to further investigate the situation. In a third-party complaint, for instance, where someone is complaining on behalf of someone else, employers cannot ignore the information just because the individual being victimized has not spoken up. Employers have a responsibility to provide their employees with a safe working environment free from harassment, and therefore must act on knowledge that has been presented.


Once a complaint has been made, the following four action steps should be taken:

  1. Consult: The individual who has received the complaint should consult with the appropriate personnel at the company, whether that be management, a legal department, or human resources.
  2. Document: Documentation of the complaint should be made. The documentation does not necessarily have to be extensive. In most situations, a simple record of the complaint, along with basic facts and the date the complaint was made, should suffice. 
  3. Investigate: While this can mean different things for different companies, the investigator should, under all circumstances, be someone who is neutral to the situation and is trained in and familiar with conducting an investigation. Once the investigation is complete, a written report should be made and kept on file.
  4. Remediate: The course of remediation will depend on the severity of the issue, including the level of harassment, the frequency with which it happened, and under what circumstances it occurred. A warning may suffice in some situations, while others may require suspension or even termination of the offender.


Download the full recording to gain additional insight into the above points, and to hear real-life examples, learn about what differentiates a great sexual harassment policy from a bad one, sexual harassment training best practices, and more!


View the Recording!


For additional support related to harassment or other issues in your workplace, please contact Matthew Roessler, Director of Client Engagement at PROXUS, at mroessler@proxushr.com or 215-654-9140 x. 409.

Tags: Human Resources