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What to Do When a Union Employee Reports Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace continues to be a hot topic. Employers across the country are reviewing their policies and procedures in order to ensure they are not the target of a large harassment complaint.

So far, we have covered sexual harassment policies, anonymous reporting, training recommendations for your workforce and independent contractors, and even how to build a harassment-free workplace culture in the Paycom blog.

However, one little-discussed topic within the sexual harassment conversation is what needs to happen differently if a union employee reports sexual harassment.


For employers, not much needs to change from their normal sexual harassment complaint policies and procedures.

Handling all complaints in a fair, consistent manner is a tenet of any successful sexual harassment policy. Employers should always implement effective policies and procedures, then conduct engaging and interactive training on them.

If the employer does collectively bargain with a union, sexual harassment policies and procedures should include any requirements relating to sexual harassment complaints made by or against union members. Those may vary depending on the collective bargaining agreement.


Unions have obligations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to investigate claims of sexual harassment. A union owes a “duty of fair representation” to both a victim of alleged harassment and to the worker accused of harassment, if they are members of the collective bargaining unit.

Essentially, this duty means what it says: the union must fairly represent each member of the bargaining unit. It must act in a manner that is not discriminatory or in bad faith.

Although typically the employer would bear the financial responsibility for ensuring a work environment free from harassing conduct, a union is in a unique position to educate and guide members on acceptable workplace conduct.

To that end, here are some recommended actions a union may take to prevent sexual harassment:

  1. Provide training and educational programs on sexual harassment.
  2. Include provisions in constitution prohibiting harassment and discrimination.
  3. Provide clear guidance on the harassment complaint process.

For example:

a. Put all complaints in writing.

b. Ensure fair and objective investigations.

c. Ensure sensitive information is handled appropriately and discreetly.

d. Promptly and effectively communicate decisions.

Although employer and union suggested practices regarding sexual harassment complaints are usually in congruency, if an employer fails to uphold its obligations, the union can file grievances against the employer. These grievances are steps by the union that can force the employer to eliminate harassing conduct.

In addition, unions can encourage represented employees to file complaints with the EEOC or other fair employment practice agencies if the employer does not appear to be addressing legitimate concerns about sexual harassment issues. Therefore, employers with relationships with unions have an additional reason to remain vigilant in their enforcement of sexual harassment policies and procedures.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.