We all know that sexual harassment can be a touchy subject. At last week’s SAHMA 2018 Conference in Orlando, Kathelene Williams of Williams & Edelstein said, “It’s definitely a complicated topic.” In a session she gave about “Sexual Harassment in Housing,” she discussed all things concerning this issue and how your Managers can deal with any instances that may come up.
Bringing attention to the #MeToo Movement, Kathelene mentioned that, nowadays, you really don’t want your company to get involved in any sexual harassment lawsuits. Her point was NOT that these criminal acts were acceptable beforehand, but that nowadays, especially with how much attention the #MeToo Movement has gained, these lawsuits have the potential to tear up a company’s reputation more now than ever.
As far as actual instances of sexual harassment, it may not be something that comes to your attention very easily. So if you hear something, you have a responsibility to investigate and seek out if harassment is happening on your property. The different types of claims of sexual harassment include:
- Resident/Guest vs. Employee/Contractor
- Employee vs. Resident
- Resident vs. Resident
Quid Pro Quo
Kathelene defined Quid Pro Quo in the session. “It includes demands for sex or sexual acts in order to buy, rent, or continue renting a home. In order for it to be Quid Pro Quo, the Landlord must have made some conditional requests and must have taken adverse housing action due to a refusal for a Fair Housing Act claim, even when battery exists.”
What is a harassing environment?
In order for a place to be classified as a harassing environment, it should include unwelcome sex conduct that makes it hard for a resident to keep living in or feeling comfortable in her home. These actions must be serious, persistent, and explicitly humiliating or threatening; these actions don’t have to include violence or assault to count as a Fair Housing Violation.
Is Hugging Ok?
Another question that came up was, “Is hugging ok?” / “Should you hug your residents?” To which Kathelene responded saying that hugging depends on who and how. It may be safe just to wait and make sure that they [the tenants] are the ones initiating the embracing. *One woman said she oversees many people in the Hispanic community who are very welcoming of physical greetings.
What about Explicit Posters/Pictures?
Another instance that was mentioned was offensive or sexually explicit wall posters/pictures. One person brought up how he had to tell his maintenance team to take down a highly sexualized calendar in their office, in order to break down that unhealthy culture.
But what do you do when it’s a resident that is posting up explicit pictures in their unit? After all, it is their unit and their pictures that they’re putting up. Kathelene responded to this question saying that it’s alright to require a resident to take down explicitly sexualized pictures when maintenance/management is in the unit if the pictures are offensive. It does get sticky around this topic because it is hard to prove the intent of the resident for hanging those pictures. If the intent is proved that it was to seduce or offend the maintenance team or any management, then that can be counted as unacceptable behavior.
General advice that is good to follow:
- Conduct training regularly
- Have Harassment policy
- Remind all employees to be friendly but not friends with residents
- Avoid sexually explicit language
- Address hugging, massaging, etc.
- Investigate each allegation and create thorough documentation. Write up all the instances that happen in regards to a tenant. This is how you beat the “I told you.” / “No you didn’t.” situation.
Ultimately, Kathelene stressed to SAHMA that it is important to “establish a culture where everyone is clear that that [sexual harassment behavior] is not acceptable.”