15-Year Sexual Harassment Report Card Brings Good News and Bad News for Employers

Lawsuits are down, but judgments are up, and training remains the answer

October 2006 marks 15 years since the term “sexual harassment” entered the American lexicon in a big way. Americans came to know it through the testimony of Anita Hill, as she complained about alleged unwelcome advances from her ex-boss, now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as he faced his congressional nomination hearing.

It’s also been 15 years since Congress added to the Civil Rights law the ability to sue employers for damages in discrimination cases, which include harassment. This gave bosses nationwide added incentive to combat the complaint.

How has the nation done on harassment since? Well, there’s good news and bad. The good news is that the number of sexual harassment cases filed is down considerably. Some 15,889 were filed in 1997, the year harassment litigation crested. In 2005, there were 12,679, reports the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That’s a drop of more than 20%.

The bad news for employers: When cases do go before a jury, judgments have skyrocketed! In 1991, the average harassment award was $141,000. Now, it’s $1 million. What’s more, some states, such as California, are imposing personal liability on those who let harassment happen. In a recent case, the firm involved was hit with a harassment judgment of $1.7 million. However, two supervisors were each ordered to put $50,000 of their own money toward that total.

The takeaway from these dispatches from the harassment front? It’s both good business and the right thing to do to set up a program that discourages harassment from happening and that responds quickly and effectively if it does. Court decisions also show that having an effective program can be a mitigating factor in your favor if you ever are hauled into court.

There are several prepared programs available to help you set up the elements of such an effort. BLR’s program is Sexual Harassment: Essentials of Prevention and Response. Here’s some of what it includes:

Fundamentals of Harassment.

The program provides a thorough overview, in plain English, of what harassment is and isn’t; of who in your organization (and surprisingly, who outside it) can cause you problems. Also covered: who can be held liable and how to investigate harassment charges in a way that will stand up to scrutiny.

Policy and Complaint Procedure

The heart of your program is your antiharassment policy. The book’s policy direction and sample policies include every essential element that law, agency guidance, and court precedent have dictated must be included.

Harassment Training

Court cases have established that, even with a strong policy, if you don’t do the requisite training, you’re still liable. The book provides the most effective training techniques, and it includes an evaluation scheme to prove your training was effective.

State Harassment Laws

The states have been even tougher than Uncle Sam in passing antiharassment statutes. The BLR program includes antiharassment requirements in all 50 states.

Sexual Harassment: Essentials of Prevention and Response also provides these prewritten materials and training aids:

–Listing of policy essentials
–Harassment policy audit checklist
–Multiple model policies, ready to customize or use as is
–Model Internet, e-mail, IM, voicemail, camera phone, and mail harassment policies
–Internal complaint procedure checklist
–Training guidelines and checklists
–Training attendance and evaluation forms
–14 harassment discussion scenarios, plus answers
–7 harassment quizzes, plus answer sheets
–5 ready-to-copy and distribute handouts on recognizing and avoiding harassment
–Ready-to-use completion certificate

Also included is the complete text of relevant federal law and EEOC guidance memos on sexual harassment. Many of the materials are also easily adaptable for combating any form of harassment, including race, gender, age, religious, national origin, and disability. Fighting discrimination in all these forms is a current EEOC focus.

Click to learn more about BLR’s Sexual Harassment: Essentials of Prevention and Response