There has been an avalanche of sexual harassment claims in the mainstream media of late as men in all areas of business have faced a wide range of accusations. As more and more women come forward to share their experiences, the reactions have been varied and no one disputes that sexual harassment exists in every industry.
For insurers, each claim will need to be explored and the outcome determined on the case's individual merits. Some claims will be denied due to lack of evidence or the length of time that has passed since the incident, others may be covered by employment practices liability insurance.
A couple of things to keep in mind. For anyone who has been subjected to some form of harassment, the details will be clear and memorable, no matter how many years or months have passed. Each woman will have her own reasons for not coming forward when the event occurred or will be able to explain what happened when she did.
I know first-hand that people are reluctant to believe the word of a young employee over the word of a man who holds a position of power and has been with a company for many years. It is a classic case of “he said,” “she said,” and usually there is limited evidence that the harassment occurred because it normally takes place when no one else is around.
If the employee doing the harassing has been employed by a company for a while, people do know about the behavior but may say that's the way he is, or you’ll just have to put up with it. Women are frequently told that no one will believe them or that if they report it, no one will want to hire them in the future. In my case, I told several people inside and outside of the company who did nothing, so ultimately I chose to leave – older and wiser.
There are other types of harassment in the workplace that employers should be aware of and have policies in place to address. Both parties to any incidents need to be treated with respect and have the opportunity to be heard. Ken Brownlee provides an excellent overview on questions to ask and what to consider when one of these claims crosses your desk.
Sadly, this is one type of claim where there will be no winners, only losers.
Patricia L. Harman is editor-in-chief of Claims Magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are the author's.