Strengthen Your Sexual Harassment Policy
Since January of this year, the DOJ has recovered over $1 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.
The Justice Department (DOJ) recently announced a new initiative to combat sexual harassment against women in housing. This initiative is a signal that a strong anti-harassment policy is more important than ever. Follow these guidelines to create a policy that helps prevent costly harassment claims.
Be detailed about prohibited behaviors
Ensure that company policies and training clearly address and prohibit the many aspects of sexual harassment, including talking about sex with tenants or coworkers and making sexual exchanges (quid pro quo).
Encourage employees to come forward
A Kansas multifamily housing company recently settled with the DOJ for $365,000 plus additional procedural requirements when several of its employees engaged in hostile sexual conduct and conditioning housing benefits in exchange for sexual favors. In cases like this one, in which multiple employees are engaging in sexual harassment, it is likely that the behavior was witnessed by other employees. Create a policy that encourages employees to report any sexual harassment they are aware of. Additionally, your policy should offer multiple options for how and to whom to report the behavior and specifically prohibit retaliation.
Operate as though remedial measures have already been taken
An owner and manager of multiple rental properties in Michigan recently settled with the DOJ for $150,000 over sexual harassment allegations, including offering housing benefits for sexual favors, threatening to adversely react to those who objected to his behavior, and engaging in unwanted touching. As part of the settlement agreement, the Justice Department may engage in compliance testing at any of the properties, among other remedial measures.
It is not uncommon that in addition to hefty fines, a settlement includes remedial measures such as policy correction, additional training, and, as in the case above, compliance testing. Had these measures been taken earlier, the unlawful behavior and costly repercussions might have been avoided.
What would you do differently if your property was subject to random compliance testing, as the property above is? Proactively ensuring that your policies and operations would pass any such test can help you avoid costly legal actions in the future.
You can read more about the latest cases affecting sexual harassment housing law in Vantage Pro, our monthly compliance reporting for Platinum Vision clients.