Prepared for a Harassment Lawsuit?

PR 004- SI - 29_02_12-367On January 25, 2013, Forbes released an article entitled, “Square COO Rabois Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Charge”. The basic premise of Rabois’ resignation was that a company employee, with whom Rabois had had a physical relationship even prior to the man’s employment at Square Inc., accused Rabois of sexual harassment and threatened a lawsuit unless he was paid “millions of dollars”

What could have been Rabois’ motivation for his resignation? He was a highly successful executive, had an extensive history of optimal work, he began this relationship several months prior to the man’s employment at Square, he felt the relationship was consensual, he had no influence in the man’s hire, he was never the man’s supervisor, and he never offered company benefits or rewards to the man.

In Rabois’ own words, “I decided to resign from Square so my colleagues could continue to do great work without the distraction that a lawsuit would most certainly bring”. The simple threat of a lawsuit was enough to permanently damage Rabois’ reputation and career in one moment.

Not only is this a distressing situation for both Rabois and Square Inc., it is also an example of how prevalent sexual harassment lawsuits are in American society today. And whether the case derives from a real problem found in the workplace, a complex misunderstanding, or simply an individual’s selfish desire to receive gain or retribution, it cannot be denied that sexual harassment litigation is an expensive process.

To prevent such problems from occurring, many companies are now requiring sexual harassment training for all employees. This training should include all behaviors recognized as sexual harassment as defined under Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace.

A basic definition of sexual harassment is given by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Commission’s definition of harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, remarks concerning sex in general, requests for sexual favors, and frequently severe incidents of harassment that create a hostile work environment.

Given these rather all-encompassing and vague definitions, it is sometimes difficult for a company to monitor and respond to inappropriate employee behavior that could be labeled as sexual harassment. After all, management cannot physically observe all employees all the time in all company situations, and sometimes it is difficult for management to distinguish between teasing among friends and potential forms of sexual harassment.

By utilizing sexual harassment training, management places at least some of the burden for employee behavior monitoring on the employees themselves. If employees are fully aware of the laws regarding harassment (including definitions of sexual harassment), then they can act more cautiously and protect themselves from any type of implication.

There are a number of different ways management can implement sexual harassment training within the workplace. They can provide an in-house speaker, they can recruit a professional speaker, they can conduct workshops, they can show a DVD, they can offer online course completion, or they can require a reading of the company manual.

The specific type of harassment training is not nearly as important as is the effect of the training on company employees. Although companies can choose training within various levels of time and cost constraints, the most important factor for them to consider in choosing training materials is employee engagement or investment in the training and employee retention of the material.

A company’s culture of sexual harassment prevention through training will be quite valuable in the long-run, given the costs, reputation destruction, productivity decrease, time demands and other results of litigation. When all is said and done, prevention is better than prosecution. For more information on such training, take a look at our site

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