The National Association of REALTORS®’ Q2 2022 Quarterly Risk Report details how the number of sexual harassment claims filed under NAR’s Professional Liability Insurance Program through October 2022 have dramatically increased, outnumbering similar claims filed in 2021, 2020 and 2019.
Sexual harassment is illegal under federal, state and local laws and causes decreased employee and member morale and engagement. By following best practices, your association can mitigate the risk of sexual harassment claims and also promote a positive environment where staff and members can further association business without fear of harassing or discriminatory behavior.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. It is defined as unwelcome verbal or physical behavior such as jokes, innuendos, unwelcome advances, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee experiences frequent or pervasive unwanted conduct—because of their sex—that unreasonably interferes with their work performance or otherwise creates a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an authority figure offers or merely hints that the employee will receive preferred treatment or some other benefit, such as a raise or promotion, in exchange for fulfilling a sexual demand. Essentially, the employee’s job depends on acquiescence to the demand.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including at the office, association-sponsored events, unofficial casual gatherings, and even online during virtual meetings or via social media or email. Keep in mind that a person of any gender can be the victim or perpetrator of sexual harassment. It’s important for associations to remember that sexual harassment can involve both employees and members.
Know the Law
To help prevent harassment, first, familiarize yourself with applicable federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws to understand the association’s legal obligations, including whether the employer is obligated to provide anti-harassment training to employees. If your association participates in NAR’s Professional Liability Insurance Program, check out the State Reference page on the EPL Assist website for more information on state and local laws.
Implement an Anti-Harassment Policy
Second, implement anti-harassment policies for employees and members. Include a definition of sexual harassment, how to report incidents, the association’s investigation process and the potential disciplinary action for violations. NAR’s Good Sense Governance resource on harassment includes sample policies to help you draft or update your association’s anti-harassment policies.
Note that it is illegal under federal law to retaliate against an employee for reporting harassment. Include a “no retaliation” statement in your policy to clearly communicate to employees and members that the association will not retaliate against someone for reporting any sexual harassment claims.
Conduct Regular Anti-Harassment Training
Third, conduct regular sexual harassment-prevention training for employees and volunteer leaders. Consider also conducting bystander-awareness training, which provides individuals with techniques for how to intervene when they witness harassment. Local or state laws may require your association to conduct these types of training; however, even when not legally required, such training is a helpful best practice to mitigate claims of sexual harassment.
Investigate All Claims
Finally, promptly investigate all harassment claims in accordance with the investigation process outlined in the association’s anti-harassment policies. Maintain thorough records documenting all communications with the person being accused, the person making the claim and any witnesses. Should the investigation reveal a reasonable basis to believe that sexual harassment occurred, ensure that harassers are disciplined consistently and in accordance with the association’s anti-harassment policy.