Tips for Avoiding Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
Take preventive measures to keep sexual harassment out of your brokerage. Sexual harassment is unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It is a form of discrimination that is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
There are two forms of sexual harassment:
- Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a person in a position to affect another worker’s job conditions makes an unwelcome sexual advance or demands sexual favors. Only supervisors or managers can engage in quid pro quo harassment. Example: "If you go out with me, I'll make sure you're promoted."
- Hostile environment harassment occurs when continuous unwelcome sexual conduct interferes with a worker's job performance or creates an intimidating or abusive environment. Example: Repeatedly making suggestive comments or telling sexual jokes in an open area where other workers can hear.
5 Sexual Harassment Categories
- Verbal: Telling lies or starting rumors about a person’s sex life or telling jokes of a sexual nature.
- Non-verbal: Looking a person up and down; staring at certain body parts.
- Physical: Massaging shoulders, neck; touching clothing, hair or body.
- Graphic: Pictures, cartoons, and written materials.
- Electronic: Items, such as jokes, cartoons, or inappropriate messages, that are sent via e-mail, telephone, texting, screen savers or other another audio or visual device.
TIP: An important preventive measure is education, says Doug Hinderer, vice president of human resources for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, but the most critical element of any sexual harassment defense is a company policy on harassment that has been disseminated to employees.
Although the sexual harassment laws don't apply to workers who meet the common law tests for independent contractors, brokers should be cautious about relying on a salesperson's independent contractor status to shield themselves from harassment claims.
Preventive Measures You Can Take
To help reduce the risk of a sexual-harassment lawsuit, your brokerage should:
- Adopt a clear, written policy that prohibits all forms of sexual harassment.
- Clearly communicate the policy.
- Offer training on what constitutes harassment.
- Have a mechanism for receiving complaints.
- Follow up promptly on any complaints.
- Impose appropriate penalties if you find harassment has occurred.
- Follow up to assure that the offensive behavior is not repeated.
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