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Steps Family Employers Can Take To Prevent Sexual Harassment By People Of Power

A Gulf Coast shipbuilder faces a lawsuit for allegedly allowing a supervisor to racially and sexually harass several of his subordinates.

A lead welder, who is a white male, allegedly racially harassed three African-American workers, and racially and sexually harassed one Asian male worker.

According to the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the supervisor at the Bayou La Batre, Alabama, headquarters repeatedly made racially derogatory and unwanted sexual comments toward an Asian welder, and touched him inappropriately, between January and June 2016. The EEOC also alleges that the supervisor called three African-American workers several racial slurs.

The employer received several complaints about the harassment, but did nothing to prevent or correct it.

The EEOC alleges that the supervisor's conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment based on race, sex, national origin, disability, or other protected characteristics. "EEOC Sues Master Marine for Same­-Sex Harassment & Race Discrimination" (Jun. 13, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

There are certain steps family employers can take to decrease their liability for sexual harassment claims.

Family employers must create written policies prohibiting all members of the family organization, no matter their title or if they are a member of the family, from committing harassment. Train all staff annually on your policy.

Family employers should provide a confidential third-party reporting mechanism so that staff feels safe reporting harassment. Encourage staff at all levels to report suspected harassment, no matter who the perpetrator is.

Additionally, family employers should use background checks on all staff, but be especially thorough in vetting managers. Ask former employers about any wrongdoing committed by the applicant. Do not hire managers who have a history of committing harassment or otherwise violating their employer’s policies. Also, ask past employers about how the applicant upheld their anti-harassment policy, and give preference to managers who took actions to prevent and stop harassment. Discuss your anti-harassment policy with all job applicants.

Here are some additional tips to prevent supervisors and managers from harassing their subordinates:

  • Create a culture of good behavior by always acting appropriately yourself. Immediately admonish in private any member of the organization that you witness saying or doing anything inappropriate.
  • Provide additional training to all managers and supervisors on your anti-harassment policy. Make sure they understand the many forms harassment can take by giving examples of prohibited behavior.
  • Have managers sign a statement saying that they understand your anti-harassment policy and that violating the policy will lead to disciplinary action, including possible termination.
  • Immediately investigate any reports of supervisors committing harassment, and take remedial action if the investigation confirms that harassment occurred.
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