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#MeToo Awareness Likely to Increase Sexual Harassment Complaints

I recently read, in the Insurance Journal, that seven in 10 human resource professionals believe sexual harassment complaints at their places of business will be higher (or much higher) this year over previous years.

The #MeToo Movement – women across America and around the world speaking or writing about their universal experiences – has clearly increased awareness. That should mean a marked increase in reported cases.

A poll of more than 200 HR business leaders in the United States found that high-profile sexual harassment allegations from Hollywood to Washington, D.C. have caused businesses to take a solid look at harassment risk mitigation and work toward eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.

More poll results:

  • 79 percent of HR professionals said that training to prevent sexual harassment will be essential – that’s up from only 40 percent before #MeToo.
  • A whopping 84 percent of HR professionals said that how an individual company handles sexual harassment complaints would be a high priority.

In other words, we are in a #MeToo age, finally, where greater awareness has encouraged American businesses of all sizes to actively work to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace.

Under California law, employers have an obligation to prevent and correct any potential harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Note the word “potential” – employers have a duty to deal with harassment before it occurs.

In addition, all California employers must distribute the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing information sheet, available here.

Furthermore, employers must have a written anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation policy, they must train supervisors, and fully and fairly investigate complaints.

California Government Code section 12940(j) provides that it is “unlawful if the entity, or its agents or supervisors, knows or should have known of this conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.” The law also provides that employers are liable if they “fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.”  Gov. Code section 12940(k).  If the employer fails to take the preventative measures, they can be held liable for the harassment between co-workers. If the harassment occurs by a manager, the company is strictly liable for the harassment.

Most often, sexual harassment complaints are from a hostile work environment – an environment in which an individual or individuals are subject to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. Employers can be liable when supervisors, other employees and non-employees harass employees.

Of course, every California employer should follow the law with a sincere effort to end workplace harassment – but the predicted rise in complaints indicates it’s not going to happen overnight.

That’s where insurance comes in. You can get sexual harassment insurance to protect your business from these claims. It’s called Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) and it is the type of coverage that protects employers who may find themselves in the midst of sexual harassment allegations. This coverage is typically purchased as either a stand-alone policy or included with general liability or directors & officers liability packages.

EPLI policies can be written to cover a number of potential problem areas including sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, mental anguish, wrongful termination, negligence, whistleblower retaliation and more.

The #MeToo movement has had a significant effect on American businesses – and on employees, who are less reluctant to file a claim.

Does your business have a sexual harassment prevention policy? Do you have a method to hear and investigate sexual harassment grievances? Are you committed to ending sexual harassment in your workplace? Do you have Employment Practices Liability Insurance?

I know employers are very busy and juggling many things these days. However, if you’re open to having a 15-20 minute conversation regarding the above topic and how our process can help transfer risk you may know be facing I you’ll get some value and insight out of it.