As an employer, you undoubtedly understand the importance of keeping sexual harassment out of your place of work. After all, victims of sexual harassment may have a legal claim against you for not intervening.
Sexual harassment can involve unwanted attention, contact or remarks. Often, a harasser directs one or more of these toward a specific individual. Sexual harassment does not have to have a defined target, however.
A climate of harassment
Ambient sexual harassment occurs when the workplace turns into a stereotypical locker room. That is, rather than having an employee direct the harassment toward another person, the sexual harassment is general in nature. For example, workers may have pornographic screen savers, tell off-color jokes or pass around explicit material. All of these may make other workers feel uncomfortable, of course.
A duty to investigate
It is easy for ambient sexual harassment to become part of the workplace culture, so you likely want to curtail it as quickly as possible. If you are unsure about the source of the ambient harassment, you may have a duty to investigate. When conducting your investigation, you may need to gather evidence, interview witnesses and make factual determinations.
An outside resource
If ambient sexual harassment is a significant problem at your business, you may not be able to conduct a meaningful investigation without outside help. Bringing in a neutral party to investigate the matter may give your investigation credence. An experienced independent investigator may also give you recommendations for ending ambient sexual harassment.
While you have a great deal on your plate, it is important to treat ambient sexual harassment as seriously as you treat targeted harassment. Ultimately, if you have a problem at your job site, taking steps to stop the harassment may help you avoid legal liability.