What does O’Reilly’s termination mean for my business?
You may have seen in the news that 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, has terminated newscaster Bill O’Reilly’s employment in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against him. Now, you may ask – why does this have anything to do with my business?
Step One: PreventionThis news story is a very important reminder to employers that they must appropriately respond to sexual harassment or discrimination complaints. Underlying this news coverage is a significant legal issue - 21st Century Fox can be liable for its employee's illegal actions if it fails to promptly investigate complaints and take appropriate remedial actions.
Under California and federal law, employees are protected from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Employers can be held liable for their employees' illegal actions. However, courts have found that employers who (1) take reasonable steps to prevent harassment; and (2) act promptly and appropriately when a complaint of harassment is made, may not be held liable for the actions of their employees.
A business should protect itself. The following summarizes some of the actions that a company should take but please note that each situation is different and may require different action.
A company must implement reasonable procedures to prevent illegal harassment and discrimination. A company should have an anti-harassment and discrimination policy, which includes a clear explanation of prohibited behavior and a complaint process. Employers must also train their employees, especially their managers, to ensure that they understand and follow this policy. California law requires employers with fifty or more employees to train their managers. However, this law sets the standard for a manager's knowledge and, thus, all employers benefit from having regular trainings. Employers should create a culture where illegal harassment and discrimination is not tolerated or allowed.
Step Two: InvestigationIf an incident of harassment or discrimination arises, then the company must act immediately to investigate the situation. All parties and witnesses must be interviewed either by an appropriate person within the company or a neutral outside person. The alleged wrongdoer may need to be put on paid administrative leave until the allegations can be investigated.
Step Three: EnforcementIf the investigation discovers that illegal contact occurred, then the company must immediately take actions to discipline the wrong doing party and to prevent any future problems. This may mean that the wrong doer's employment should be terminated. Further, to prevent future illegal actions, an employer may hold sexual harassment training.