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Inappropriate Harassment in the Workplace | A Primer for Florida Employers

Running a business is tough these days … for many reasons. 

Business owners and senior managers don’t need internal strife among their employees. Any business with employees must be ever conscious of this fact and have a definitive program to:

  • Prohibit inappropriate harassment of employees.
  • Minimize claims and legal actions against the company for such conduct.
  • Deal with workplace harassment cases when the inevitable arises.

We all know that harassment of any type in the workplace is inappropriate, but it occurs and can put a strain on an organization or result in unplanned liability. 

The Law: Workplace Harassment

Harassment is defined as “conduct that is unwanted and unwelcome.” See Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) website.

Harassment is based on a protected characteristic of the person, for example: 

  • Sex
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation or preference
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Parental status

Generally, such conduct rises to the level of harassment when it is egregious in nature, pervasive throughout the organization, or occurs over a long period of time. 

Types of Workplace Harassment 

Prohibited workplace harassment may take either of two forms:

  1. It may involve “quid pro quo” or “this for that” harassment, which entails an offer (usually) by a supervisor to provide some work-related benefit or withhold some adverse employment action in return for inappropriate favors (often of a sexual nature). 
  2. The second type entails the creation of a hostile work environment by supervisors or coworkers based upon pervasive or consistent unwelcomed conduct or a single act that is so egregious as to be significantly offensive to an employee.

Examples of Harassment in the Workplace

Inappropriate harassment can take many forms, but common examples include the following:

  • A supervisor requires a subordinate to participate in religious activities as employment. 
  • A coworker makes comments on the physical attributes of another employee.
  • Leadership or supervisors fail to stop or correct any of the above behaviors. 

These are only some of the many actions that can constitute workplace harassment.

Responsibilities of Employers

As a general rule, employers are held liable for their employees’ and supervisors’ actions concerning other employees and subordinates. Liability of the company may extend to conduct attributed to any party, including third parties present in the workplace, like employees of other businesses, clients, and customers. Ultimately, the key issue will be what the employer did (or failed to do) to prevent and address the harassing conduct.

What Steps Should Employers Take To Prevent Workplace Harassment and Avoid Costly Litigation and Claims in This Area?

Steps For Employers:

  1. Companies must establish a culture of zero tolerance for any type of inappropriate harassment in the workplace. 
  2. Every company should have a published policy that clearly articulates its position on this matter, defines workplace harassment, provides avenues for employees who are victims of workplace harassment to report it, and delineates corrective and disciplinary procedures for incidents.
  3. Employers must establish a training program that trains employees on their policies and procedures and demonstrates to the workforce the company’s commitment to zero tolerance for workplace harassment.
  4. Employers must provide clear and approachable avenues for employees to make internal complaints, obtain an appropriate resolution of issues, and remedy the adverse effects of harassment on their work and personal lives.
  5. Companies must plan and provide for disciplining employees who engage in workplace harassment against their coworkers or subordinates.
  6. Finally and most importantly, any company with employees should seek assistance from a Florida Attorney who is knowledgeable in workplace harassment. Don’t wait – once litigation arises, it’s too late to take the steps necessary to mitigate legal and liability risks to the company.

Prohibit Workplace Harassment: Contact David Charitat 

It’s always best to have an attorney who is both familiar with the company and an expert in the field to help the leadership team set up the company’s workplace harassment program. 

David Charitat focuses on government acquisitions, federal employment and labor law, and real estate, with over 25 years of experience in US Government contracts. David and the team at Widerman Malek have extensive experience in this area. We can help your company develop and institute a comprehensive program to deter and deal with workplace harassment claims and avoid costly litigation when claims arise.