Employers’ Responsibility to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In 2007, California's Fair Employment and Housing Act Commission adopted rules regarding how employers in the state should meet their obligation to provide sexual harassment training to employees. The Commission wanted to offer clarity to employers who had to comply with the Fair Employment and Housing Act's requirement to offer sexual harassment training and provide employers flexible ways to meet those requirements. California's mandatory training is one example of how state laws support federal law regarding the responsibility of employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

California's Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training

Under California law, all employers with 50 or more employees or contractors must provide two hours of sexual harassment training to supervisors and managers every two years. All state and municipal employers have to provide sexual harassment training, regardless of number of employees. Attorneys, professors or Human Resources professionals with two years' experience are qualified to deliver the training.

Within the training sessions, employers must:

  • Meet the 11 requirements that the Commission outlined in its rules for training, including defining sexual harassment, the conduct that constitutes sexual harassment, strategies to prevent sexual harassment and the remedies available for victims of sexual harassment
  • Create an anti-harassment policy and train employees on the policy
  • Distribute an information sheet about harassment to all employees
  • Post a copy of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing's anti-harassment poster

Employers may offer the training sessions in a classroom setting, in webinars or through e-learning.

Federal Law Requires Reasonable Care

In addition to state laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, federal laws deal with workplace sexual harassment. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. The law applies to private employers with more than 15 employees and public employers. The law imposes a duty on employers to prevent and stop sexual harassment of employees. Under the law, an employer's responsibility is twofold:

  • Take reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment
  • Take reasonable care to stop sexual harassment that is occurring

The law does not define the steps that constitute reasonable care. However, courts have said that an employer may satisfy the responsibility to prevent harassment by having an anti-harassment policy and distributing it, as well as educating employees how to make a complaint for harassment.

If an employer has a policy but does not enforce it or does not investigate complaints, then the employer is not taking reasonable care. An employer must be aware of the harassment before the employer can be liable for stopping it, however, so an employee should follow the employer's reporting procedures if he or she is being harassed.

No one should have to tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers have a duty to prevent and stop sexual harassment but they do not always meet this duty. If you are being sexually harassed at work, contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney immediately who can help protect your rights.