Reducing the Risks of a Sexual Harassment Claim

Claims for sexual harassment, which is considered a form of housing discrimination based on sex, can cost thousands—if not millions—in settlements or court awards, civil penalties, and attorney’s fees—not to mention lasting damage to the reputation of the community, management, and individuals involved. 

The first step is to implement a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment. It doesn’t matter whether it’s part of your general fair housing policy or a stand-alone policy. What’s important is to have a clear, written policy that sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated at your community and that violations will bring prompt disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Equally important is effective training for all employees. Explain that sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual conduct—through words or actions—toward prospects, applicants, residents, guests, and other visitors, regardless of their gender. Emphasize that employees should treat applicants and residents professionally and offer examples of prohibited conduct, such as:

  • Explicitly or implicitly suggesting sex in return for living in the community, receipt of services, or otherwise related to the terms and conditions of the tenancy;
  • Suggesting or implying that failure to accept a date or sex would adversely affect the resident’s tenancy;
  • Initiating unwanted physical contact, such as touching, grabbing, or pinching;
  • Making sexually suggestive or obscene comments, jokes, or propositions; and
  • Displaying sexually suggestive photos, cartoons, videos, or objects.

For more strategies to reduce the risk of sexual harassment claims, see “How to Reduce the Risk of a Sexual Harassment Claim at Your Community,” available to subscribers here.