United States: Sexual Harassment In The News Likely To Lead To Uptick In Claims

Last Updated: May 4 2017
Article by James McDonald and Richard R. Meneghello

Whenever the topic of sexual harassment reaches mainstream media outlets, people are bound to take notice. And when sexual harassment allegations involving a prominent public figure like Bill O'Reilly appear in the headlines of just about every major national and local media source, your employees are undoubtedly aware.

Given that this is perhaps the most high-profile situation in decades involving sexual harassment allegations, you can expect that employee awareness about the issue will be raised for the foreseeable future. And the heightened interest in this matter may cause an increased number of sexual harassment allegations – both meritorious and not – in the weeks and months to come.

For this reason, you should make sure your organization takes proactive steps to ensure a workplace environment free of harassing behavior, and is prepared to swiftly and thoroughly address any allegations of improper conduct that do arise. Here are some action steps you should consider:

  1. It Begins With Effective Workplace Policies

The defense of many harassment claims begins with an examination of your company policies. By this point, nearly every employer in the country has a set of written (or electronic) employment policies that include a prohibition on sexual harassment. You should be able to easily demonstrate that each new employee was issued, or has access, to these policies, so you can remove any doubt about whether your employees were informed of your rules.

But are your harassment policies effective? To be most effective, they should contain the following:

  • A clear message that your organization has "zero tolerance" for unlawful harassment;
  • A definition of what constitutes prohibited harassment;
  • Several examples of conduct that you would consider to be in violation of your policy;
  • A call for employees to immediately report conduct they witness or experience they believe to be harassment;
  • Several avenues for employees to register complaints, including alternate reporting mechanisms if they believe their immediate supervisor is part of the problem; and
  • A promise that employees reporting harassment will not be subject to retaliation.
  1. Get On The Training Train

It is vitally important that you train your personnel on your policies. It's a good practice to include a review of your policies at the orientation stage for all new employees, but it's perhaps even more helpful to train your managers on how to properly receive complaints and what they should do if a complaint falls in their lap (hint: immediately get human resources involved). In fact, a number of states require sexual harassment training, so check with your labor and employment attorney if you are unsure about what is required of your organization.

  1. Investigations Are Vital

It is often hard to determine exactly when a harassment complaint is received, as employees may not use the words "harassment" or "hostile work environment" when lodging a complaint (or, conversely, may incorrectly use these terms when describing minor workplace conflicts). For this reason, trained human resources professionals or managers should speak with the employee in question to determine the full extent of the problem as soon as possible. It is generally advisable to get the employee to provide a written account of the complaint with as much detail as possible. This will help to ensure that all allegations are investigated.

Once it is determined that the complaint includes a possible harassment component, your human resources team should launch a swift and thorough investigation using impartial personnel. Your investigation team should ask open-ended questions to get the full story, but not be afraid to ask specific follow-ups to nail down particulars. They should also review any pertinent email messages, text messages, other electronic communications, or other documentation that might be relevant.

During your investigation, you may want to ensure that the employee making the complaint is not forced to work side-by-side with the employee who is alleged to have violated your policy. Some employers choose to place the employee accused of harassment on leave pending the outcome of the investigation; such leave can be paid or unpaid depending on the circumstances.

Finally, the investigation should be kept as confidential as possible. Don't promise the accuser that the complaint will not be shared with anybody else. However, you can inform the accuser that you will make every effort to keep the matter confidential to the extent possible, but that your legal obligation to fully investigate the matter may lead to the inevitable disclosure of information.

  1. Make Timely Follow-Up Decisions

If you conclude that a violation of your policy has occurred, you then must take immediate and appropriate corrective action designed to ensure that the offending employee no longer repeats the improper behavior. You have several options available: the most common include a verbal warning, written warning, suspension, mandatory training, demotion, and of course, termination of employment. Make sure you document whichever course of action you decide, and follow up with the employee who made the complaint to inform them you have taken steps designed to ensure they no longer face that same conduct in the future.

If you are unable to substantiate the allegations, inform the employee. Don't tell them you think they were lying (unless, of course, you have solid proof that the accusations were completely fabricated). Instead, let them know that you appreciate that they brought the matter to your attention, but that after a thorough and impartial investigation, you were unable to uncover evidence substantiating the allegations. You can let the employee know they are welcome to lodge further complaints if they believe similar behavior occurs, while reminding the employee who was the subject of the investigation that they remain subject to your policies.

  1. Get Legal Counsel Involved

Finally, you will want to bring your workplace lawyers into the loop as soon as possible. In a perfect world, you'll work together with your labor and employment attorney to develop your harassment policies and you will have their blessing on them long before any situations arise. However, even if your lawyer was not involved at the drafting stage, it is a good idea to get them involved once a complaint has been raised. The guidance and feedback they can provide, behind the scenes or not, will be invaluable in ensuring you are handling all of your legal responsibilities while creating a workplace free of harassing behavior.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions