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Educate your employees about sexual harassment

California law requires employers with 50 or more employees or contractors to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees who work inside the state. New hires must receive the training within six months of starting their new jobs and every two years thereafter. However, smaller businesses should also have sexual harassment policies in place, and employees should be taught how to recognize and react to the many faces of this problem.

Two definitions

The most familiar example of sexual harassment is a quid pro quo situation in which an employee, usually a woman, is offered some employment benefit, such as a pay raise or promotion, in return for granting sexual favors of some sort to the boss, usually a male. The other common example is the existence of a hostile environment, in which there might be off-color jokes, sexually charged cartoons, pictures, conversations and the like. If an employee finds anything along these lines to be offensive, it can be defined as sexual harassment.

Training can make a difference

The fact that an employee laughs at a risqué joke or cartoon does not give someone else license to touch her-or him-inappropriately or make suggestive remarks. The sexual harassment policy a company puts in place should be made clear to every new employee during a comprehensive training session, whether there are two new hires or two hundred. During the orientation, employees should be given specific examples of offensive behavior and taught how to handle a situation with which they are uncomfortable.

Learning to recognize problems

Sometimes there is a fine line between an action that might simply be welcoming or comforting in nature or one that could be considered offensive. These days, electronic harassment is gaining traction through emails, texting and online posts. Victims or whistle-blowers may be reluctant to come forward, fearing retaliation. Training should therefore not only help employees to recognize the kinds of behaviors that could be classed as sexual harassment, but also lay out the steps they can take in confronting perpetrators, reporting problems or lodging formal complaints.

When legal assistance should be considered

Unfortunately, not everyone reacts appropriately to training efforts. If you have become the victim of sexual harassment at work, you probably have many questions concerning the incident itself, your rights, and the possibility of retaliation from your tormentor or employer. An experienced attorney will be happy to answer your questions and provide the support you need to overcome this kind of strenuous and often frightening situation.

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