Sexual Harassment Allegations
Sexual harassment allegations are a serious matter. The Baltimore sex-for-repairs $8 million settlement is still fairly fresh on property management companies minds. Even more recently Uber has hit the media as another high profile company who allegedly has ignored sexual harassment in the workplace. Obviously becoming a high profile case is the last thing a property management company wants. This post will remind you of the absolute necessity to have policies and protocols to protect your employees and your residents.
It is not uncommon for sexual harassment allegations to arise within fair housing complaints. While the actions of this company referenced above appear to be egregious and extreme, even less serious actions can result in allegations of sexual harassment. For example, a maintenance employee of an apartment community commented upon the beauty of a single female resident and her young daughter. The resident reported the incident to the property manager, complaining that the maintenance employee was being overly friendly because he was trying to "hit on" her. Although the maintenance employee's comments probably would not ultimately be enough to make a case for sexual harassment, all employees should be cautioned against making remarks to applicants or residents that could be offensive sexually. Since it is difficult to determine what another person might find offensive, employees should simply refrain from overly familiar or personal comments to applicants or residents.
In order to hold management responsible for sexual harassment allegations, the person being harassed must prove that management either knew or should have known of the problem. This requirement protects management from being held responsible when it did not have the opportunity to correct the problem. To avoid successful allegations of sexual harassment we suggest management take the following steps:
If an applicant or resident (who we will call "the complainant") complains that the statements or actions of an employee are offensive (even if the term "sexual harassment" is not used), management should immediately conduct an "investigation" of the matter. An investigation includes interviewing all relevant parties, documenting the interviews, and responding to the complainant in writing. If the investigation shows that the employee's conduct was offensive or a violation of company policy, appropriate action should be taken with the employee and documented. What "appropriate action" is will depend upon the seriousness of the conduct, but it could include counseling by a supervisor documented with a written admonishment, suspension, change of job assignments, or even dismissal. If the investigation does not substantiate the allegations of the complainant, the file should be documented with a statement by the supervisor of why it appears the allegations were without merit, and an appropriate letter should be sent to the complainant.
Provide Regular Training
The best way to avoid sexual harassment problems is to conduct regular sensitivity training for all employees on the kinds of statements and actions that can create sexual harassment issues. Supervisors should also be sensitive to the actions of employees and individually counsel employees that are "overly friendly" or aggressive toward applicants or residents. While many of the legal actions filed are without merit, it only takes one legitimate sexual harassment case to devastate an apartment community.