California Nonprofits and #MeToo: How to Handle Sexual Harassment Claims

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Sexual misconduct in the workplace has never been acceptable and has been unlawful for many years. But with the rise of social media and especially since movements like #MeToo have grown popular, sexual harassment has taken on a new character. For nonprofits, appropriately addressing sexual harassment concerns is especially important. Failing to do so could destroy an organization’s reputation, threatening funding sources and undermining the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

California requires all employers to take steps to prevent sexual harassment

Under California law all employers are required to actively prevent sexual harassment, respond to it when it occurs, and correct problems that have arisen as a consequence of the bad behavior. There are a number of specific steps an employer must take:

  1. Adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy. By law all employers must have a written anti-harassment policy. The policy must comply with a long list of requirements. Among other things, it must:
    1. explain what behaviors are unlawful,
    2. define procedures for complaints and resolution of disputes,
    3. describe what will happen if someone violates the policy, and
    4. provide that employees who bring complaints will not suffer retaliation for doing so.
  2. Post notices and distribute literature. Employers are required to post a state-mandated poster and to distribute a description of anti-harassment rights to all employees.
  3. For large organizations, provide training. Employers in California who employ at least 50 employees are required to provide anti-harassment training to managers. The headcount used for this requirement includes full-time, part-time, temporary, and contract workers who work for the organization for at least 20 consecutive weeks. Although providing training is optional for smaller organizations, it can be a good way to prevent problems.

Take complaints seriously

Nonprofits need to take a disciplined, serious approach to any complaint about sexual harassment. One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to be flippant or dismissive of a complaint. Especially when a complaint involves someone in a position of authority—an executive officer or director, for example—a disciplined approach can avoid the appearance of favoritism and bias that can expose the organization to public scrutiny and litigation.

Work with an attorney to make a plan

Every nonprofit’s goal should be to get ahead of potential sexual harassment problems by planning ahead. Compliance with state law is only part of the equation. Taking the time to develop a robust, practical policy early can protect the organization’s reputation in the long run.

The Church Law Center of California helps clients in the religious and secular nonprofit world improve all aspects of their governance and compliance practices. Call us today at (949) 689-0437 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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