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What you don't know about sexual harassment can hurt you.

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This story appears in the July 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Despite all the media attention devoted to sexual harassment, some are not getting the message. Lawsuits over sexual harassment are still on the rise. When the White Plains, New York, law firm Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler & Krupman surveyed 850 human resources specialists

in 1995, 92 percent reported that their company had handled a sexual harassment claim in 1995, up from 62 percent the year before. Small businesses are especially vulnerable because the informal office atmosphere may seem to allow sexual banter and innuendos, and a small business is less likely to have an official sexual harassment policy and training program. But be sure you and your staff understand what sexual harassment is, what it isn't, and how to stay out of trouble.

The law is still developing in such areas as same-sex harassment, female-to-male harassment, what constitutes a "hostile environment," and just who can be held liable. Basically, though, charges of sexual harassment are based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender. (Many states have similarly worded anti-discrimination laws.) After a string of pioneering cases in the mid-1970s and 1980s, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued definitions and guidelines to clarify what constitutes sexual harassment.

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