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Labor & Employment Law

Tips for Preventing Sexual Harassment

Posted Oct 15, 2007 12:00 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Sexual harassment has been in the news lately, raising awareness of the issue. So now is the time to prevent problems in your own workplace, experts advise.

An up-to-date written sexual harassment policy, appropriate training and encouraging discussion of the issue can go a long way to prevent it, reports Newsday. If harassment may have occurred, employers need to take complaints seriously, investigate and document their findings—and avoid retaliating against complaining workers.

Sexual harassment can be a problem at law firms, as discussed in an ABA Journal feature story last year. In addition to developing an appropriate written sexual harassment policy and training program, fostering a culture of respect for fellow workers is key, experts said in the article.

Harassment is costly to all concerned, consultant Lauren Stiller Rikleen tells Newsday. In addition to potential monetary damages, harassment costs employers in productivity, says Rikleen, who is executive director of the Bowditch Institute for Women's Success in Framingham, Mass., a group that helps companies encourage women advance at work.

"When people are in a severe situation, it can be debilitating," she says. "You're uncomfortable to be near a person. You put an enormous amount of attention into avoiding a person at work, trying to extricate yourself from any situation where that other person will be. ... That is a huge amount of effort that is taken away from one's job."

As discussed in recent ABAJournal.com posts, sexual harassment of a team executive by New York Knicks star Isiah Thomas (who insists he is innocent) resulted in a nearly $12 million damages award against Madison Square Garden. And, more than a decade after the fact, alleged sexual harassment is still being debated in a "he said, she said" situation by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and law professor Anita Hill, his former subordinate at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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