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Ask the Hotline | Sexual Harassment Policies

September 5, 2017
 
Q. I am new as the HR person at my company. As part of my review of company practices, I realized we don’t have a sexual harassment policy in place. I know we should have one but I need some help convincing my senior management that now is the time to start doing it. 
 
A. The Massachusetts sexual harassment law has been in effect for 21 years. The relevant law is Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, s3A. The 1996 law required all employers with six or more employees to adopt a sexual harassment policy and issue it to all new employees at the time of hire and to all employees every year thereafter. Your new employer should start issuing a policy immediately and annually going forward. 
 
If you do not have a model policy available, you may download one from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) Web site at or from the AIM online resource center
 
Don’t rely on the policy being in the company handbook to satisfy the annual distribution requirement since the law explicitly states that an employer must annually provide an individual written copy to each employee. The other reason to use the model policy is that it has current addresses and phone numbers for the various MCAD offices in case an employee wishes to report a claim to the MCAD or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 
 
In preparing the policy to be issued or reissued, make sure you have the current names of the company officials with whom employees may file complaints. While the law specifies one name, the MCAD model policy recommends two. AIM recommends designating one company official of each gender. 
 
When you distribute the policy have each employee sign to acknowledge receipt. Make sure that your employees understand how to use the policy. And when you receive a complaint, take steps immediately to investigate and address the issues. 
 
Training
 
The statute strongly encourages employers to provide regular anti-harassment training for all employees.
 
The MCAD anti-harassment guidelines also stress that an employer should do more detailed training for supervisors and managers to ensure that they understand their responsibility to respond to and investigate any complaint. The need to train supervisors is important because actions by the supervisor and manager as agents of the employer may create legal liability on the employer.
 
Please contact the AIM Hotline at 800-470-6277 if you are interested in learning more about how to handle sexual harassment issues that arise under your company policy and Massachusetts law, or if you are interested in learning more about training. 
 
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