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Understanding Your Company’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ Sexual Harassment Policy

Published: Jan 15, 2018 in Employment Law, Sexual Harassment

The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements have brought necessary attention to the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces around the nation. They have started and progressed important conversations regarding gender inequality, sexual violence, and the continual silencing of victims of all genders. In response to many individuals speaking up regarding sexual harassment and assault at work in all types of industries, many businesses are reviewing their discrimination and sexual harassment policies as well as how complaints are handled.

Some of these businesses are moving forward with “zero tolerance” sexual harassment policies, meaning that well-founded complaints of sexual harassment will lead to the dismissal of the perpetrator. For victims of sexual harassment, this is an important step forward. However, if you have suffered harassment or assault at a company that maintains a zero tolerance policy, you still need to protect your rights and ensure that the company upholds its own policy. This often requires working with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer.

To discuss whether your situation amounts to sexual harassment and your rights under a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy, call Cates Mahoney, LLC at (618) 767-6293 today.

What is Sexual Harassment?

In Illinois, sexual harassment encompasses any unsolicited or unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace. The Illinois Human Rights Act defines it as any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors.

Sexual harassment may arise in one egregious incident. For instance, an employee forcibly, and without consent, touching the sexual organs or private areas of another employee would constitute sexual harassment.

A common form of sexual harassment is known as quid pro quo. This occurs when someone with authority over another individual hints or offers that the individual would receive a raise or some other benefit if he or she were to submit to the authority figure’s sexual demand. In some situations, the individual is made to understand that submitting to the sexual demand is a condition of continued employment, not just an additional benefit.

This form of discrimination, however, is often more insidious than one overt situation. Ongoing, non-consensual sexual conduct can create a hostile work environment that amounts to sexual harassment. For example, when one or more employees consistently make lewd comments, discuss sex or their personal sex lives in the office, display sexual items or photos, and/or watch pornography at work, they may create an offensive or intimidating environment.

What is a Zero Tolerance Sexual Harassment Policy?

Zero tolerance sexual harassment policies provide that an individual will be dismissed from his or her position if the business finds that he or she committed any act of sexual harassment that is likely unlawful. Under this type of policy, employees do not receive warnings or disciplinary action regarding unlawful behavior, do not benefit from a three-strikes rule, or do not have the right to a probationary period. One instance of sexual harassment could lead to an immediate termination.

When Does a Co-Worker or Supervisor’s Behavior Violate a Zero Tolerance Policy?

Under a zero tolerance policy, any instance of sexual harassment that would violate Illinois or federal law should lead to a dismissal. If you have been a direct victim of sexual harassment or are suffering from a hostile work environment, you have the right to come forward regarding the issue to your manager or human resources department. You have the right for your claim to be immediately investigated, and when your allegations are supported, for the offender to be terminated.

Even with a zero tolerance policy in place, this is still a process that takes time. Your employer has the right to conduct a thorough investigation, and the alleged offender may defend himself or herself. It is up to you to protect your rights during this time, including in situations in which your employer or another co-worker attempts to retaliate against you. You should always have your own sexual harassment lawyer to protect you during the complaint process.

Let Our Sexual Harassment Lawyers Help You

At Cates Mahoney, LLC, we understand that sexual harassment at work is not always an obvious case of being groped or explicitly asked for a sexual favor in order to avoid being fired. In many situations, it is subtle, yet malicious behavior that many of your co-workers may never see or hear.

When you are involved in a situation where you are unsure if the other person’s actions are illegal, contact us at (618) 767-6293 to schedule a free case consultation.