Amid highly publicized revelations of sexual harassment and discrimination in government and the film industry, all industries are taking a closer look at how to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.
Staffing agencies that employ temporary workers may have questions about where their responsibility lies in protecting these employees from on-the-job harassment. Here’s what you need to know to safeguard both your temp employees – and your business.
Where responsibility lies
Federal laws.Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful to sexually harass an employee and to retaliate against someone who complains about employment discrimination. An employment agency, such as a temporary staffing agency or a recruitment company, is covered by this law if the agency regularly refers employees to employers. The law applies no matter how many employees an agency has.
At the federal level, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines apply to employers in all states, noting that employers periodically “should provide [harassment prevention] training to all employees to ensure they understand their rights and responsibilities.”
State laws.Your agency should also know and stay updated on applicable state laws. According to a white paper written by attorney Michael Johnson, CEO of Clear Law Institute, nearly half of all states have laws that provide guidance for sexual harassment prevention. For most of those states, specific groups of employees (i.e., management, supervisory, all employees, state employees or school personnel) are covered. Two states in particular – California and Connecticut – have enacted comprehensive rules related to harassment prevention and training for employers with more than 50 employees. Those laws spell out what’s required for all employees.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has developed a toolkit that defines compliance requirements for California employers, which could be considered a gold standard, even for states with far less specific rules.
Why training for temps
In the event of legal action against a client company and/or the staffing agency, a court will make a thorough examination for signs of negligence. This will range from noncompliance with federal and state anti-harassment laws, including policy content and policy dissemination, clear and open human resources channels, reporting mechanisms and follow-up, as well as training and recordkeeping and company’s liability for employee wrongdoing.
Providing harassment prevention training for all employees, including temps, is an effective way to communicate your agency’s written policies, procedures and expectations. It can also help foster respect and a workplace environment where every employee can be productive.
From e-learning and webinars to traditional classroom training, SHRM suggests employers review the many styles of training available to educate employees on sexual harassment. Many training experts recommend “hybrid” training, which combines traditional classroom training with other media (e.g., internet-based training, slide presentations). Interactivity, or active participation by trainees, is essential, as is hiring a trainer who has specialized qualifications and skills on anti-harassment education.
For example, California law specifies using qualified trainers – attorneys, professors or instructors, HR professionals or harassment prevention consultants with certifications, credentials and experience with that state’s regulations. The law also spells out content and recordkeeping requirements for training.
A shared responsibility
Every employee has the right to feel safe from sexual harassment at work.
In addition to having its own harassment policies and training in place, your staffing agency can protect temp workers by ensuring client companies have active policies and training content that they review and disseminate regularly. This will help to minimize the risk of hostile incidents, while providing important legal protection for your staffing agency.