PRODUCTION TAKE PHOTO FROM SEPT. 28, 1998 ISSUE

By JANE BRIGHT

The words are on the lips of everyone these days sexual harassment. Employers now more than ever are asking, "How do we know if sexual harassment has occurred, and if it has, how do we make it go away without being sued?"

The Supreme Court's recent decisions regarding an employer's responsibility in a sexual harassment issue make it very clear that companies, both large and small, must take decisive steps to communicate to all employees, at all levels, that sexual harassment or harassment of any kind is strictly prohibited.

This communication, in the recommended form of a company policy, should include complaint procedures that are in place in the organization so the offended employee can disclose the harassment to a person with decision-making power without fear of reprisal. Training should be provided for all managers and supervisors so they recognize harassment and possess the skills to handle a complaint with sensitivity.

Employers should also implement prompt and impartial procedures for investigating complaints. Even better protection is to have the policy signed by each employee, with employer and employee keeping a copy of the acknowledgement. Disciplinary procedures for violation of the policy should also be spelled out, up to and including termination.

Employers now have less wiggle room when it comes to their role in a sexual harassment matter. A manager can be held responsible for a harasser's actions unless a company has strong policies in place that can be used to separate it from the harasser. Retaliation no longer needs to be proven in order for the harassment to be identified for what it is; the act of harassing is enough.

Employees, too, have greater responsibility. If an employee feels he or she has been harassed, it's no longer enough to tell a friend or co-worker. They must inform someone with decision-making power.

Most employees do not invite sexual harassment or any other type of discrimination. In order for any type of harassment to grip an organization there needs to be an atmosphere that invites it, or at the very least, a situation where management turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to it. Sexual harassment has always been a workplace problem, yet many employers still treat it as if it's no big deal, a part of the employment landscape.

Employers should be aware, however, that following Supreme Court guidelines and implementing necessary policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment still are not enough to keep claims away from their door. The best it will do is enable them to present a good case in court.

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