Grace Hill Training Tip of the Week
Best Practices to Help Protect Applicants, Residents, and Employees from Sexual Harassment.
Recent high-profile sexual harassment allegations have highlighted the need for increased sexual harassment training, education, and awareness. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals against discrimination because of sex. Courts have consistently recognized sexual harassment as a form of discrimination that violates the FHA. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a final rule, formalizing legal standards under the FHA for sexual harassment and other forms of harassment in housing. HUD commentary on this rule noted that sexual harassment may violate a variety of provisions of the Fair Housing Act.
So what can you do to help protect your applicants, residents, and employees from harassment? Here are some tips:
Have strong written policies: The FHA, Title VII, and most state and local laws require that you have a written sexual harassment policy. The precise contents of the policy vary greatly depending upon your jurisdiction. However, most require that you at least prohibit sexual harassment, adopt a comprehensive complaint process that allows for multiple channels of reporting, prohibit retaliation against those who file complaints, provide precise investigation procedures, and provide confidentiality (to the extent possible).
Provide meaningful training: Demonstrating that your employees and managers have been trained is one of the best ways to show compliance with sexual harassment laws. The frequency and detail of the training will depend greatly upon your particular jurisdiction
Conduct thorough investigations: If a sexual harassment allegation is lodged against someone within your organization, the law requires that the company conduct a thorough, good-faith investigation. This typically would include interviewing and getting statements from all parties involved, including talking with other residents or employees to see if they have ever witnessed similar behavior.
Discipline offenders: The company that overlooks sexual harassment and continues to employ a harasser risks great liability in the future. If a harassment victim can prove that the company knew of previous allegations and failed to take steps to address the issue and stop the behavior, then the company could find itself subject to legal penalties. In the current environment, HUD, the DOJ, and juries will likely not have sympathy for organizations that overlook harassing behavior.
Consult an attorney early: It is never too early in the process to consult an attorney or consultant to help guide you through the process.
Many have argued that companies are not doing enough to proactively address the issue of sexual harassment, and the potential cost for property managers is high. Having a strong anti-harassment is important, but the implementation is important too. It is best to demonstrate good-faith compliance with the sexual harassment laws through a comprehensive policy of written guidance, thorough training, and effective response.