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Avoiding employer liability for workplace harassment

As an employer in the United States, you have a duty to prevent and address harassment that occurs in your place of business. Taking steps to do so is extremely important, and it can also help you down the line in the event an employee files a harassment claim against you.

Workplace harassment can take on many forms, and employees may file claims if they feel they are victims of sexual harassment or other forms of harassment based on race, age, gender, disability or what have you. It is also worth noting that employees do not have to be direct victims of harassing behavior to file harassment claims against you; they may also do so if they are affected or offended by the behavior. Just how liable your business is to harassment lawsuits depends on several factors, among them the employment actions taken with regard to the alleged harassment.

Harassment liability for employers

If one of your supervisors harasses an employee in a manner that leads to termination, a loss of wages or a failure to promote or hire someone, you are automatically liable for the action under federal laws. If an employee makes a claim that he or she is experiencing harassment to the extent it creates a hostile work environment, you, as an employer, may be able to avoid liability if you can prove two specific things.

First, you must be able to demonstrate you took reasonable action to prevent and promptly address the behavior that created the hostile work environment. Second, you must be able to prove your employee failed to heed your instructions with regard to how to prevent or address the harassing behavior responsible for creating the hostile work environment.

Ultimately, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles harassment complaints it receives on a case-by-case basis, meaning what holds true in one situation may not do so for the next. Employers may help their chances of resolving or refuting allegations of harassment by hiring competent employment lawyers to argue on their behalf.

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