If One Volunteer Sexually Assaults Another Volunteer, Can the Nonprofit Be Sued?

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Sexual harassment cases and accusations frequent the news almost every day. Approximately half of the women report being harassed sexually in their workplace. These days, no gender is exempted because even men go through this ordeal. These headlines give everyone a chance to reflect on the issue as it pertains to the place where people work, including nonprofits.

Volunteers, along with the staff, clients, and the board members of the organization can experience the impact of the sexual assault issue in the workplace. It is worth noting that many nonprofits take on harassment directly – often by means of providing services to those who have gone through such traumatizing event. Others choose to educate their workers, and some use their advocacy for better and stronger laws for preventing it.

Sexual Harassment in a Hostile Workplace

sex crimes

Sexual assault also happens at nonprofit organizations, and recent news showed that business companies and public agencies are not exempt from such an instance. It can happen between one volunteer and another. If you or someone you know is sexually harassed, it is essential to be aware of what to do. Often, one of the most significant questions here is whether the nonprofit itself can be sued.

The most common form of sexual assault involves a hostile workplace in a nonprofit organization. This particular concept is not just about abuse by an authority in the firm. The harasser may use his or her advantage when it comes to size and other characteristics over another member. A hostile work environment can be any of the following:

  • The workplace has explicit images or obscene graffiti from a popular song or picture. Often, it becomes unlawful, primarily if a woman is working in a department mostly comprised of men.
  • Hugs to everyone in the workplace can be useful in bolstering self-esteem. They may also be welcomed when congratulating someone. However, if the supervisor frequently hugs female coworkers, it may cause alarm for the receiver of the hug. It is true mostly if it lasts too long or is too tight. Often, it is not prompted by excitement or happiness.
  • A compliment is not unlawful, but it can become harassment if it is used to hide improper conduct. Typically, whispering to a nonprofit volunteer about how “sexy” he or she is may not be construed as just a compliment, particularly if it is accompanied by other disrespectful behavior.

When a supervisor greets a volunteer with some remarks about his or her body, it may quickly go beyond the limitations of tolerable flirtation.

Should the Nonprofit Be Held Liable for the Hostile Workplace?

If any of the mentioned circumstances above happened to you, one of the things you would like answered is whether the nonprofit is responsible for the hostile work environment or not. The answer to this will depend on whether the organization knows about it or not. If they knew, they could be held liable for the actions of the other volunteer.

The organization should also be held responsible if they reasonably should have known about the events. The harassed person or another individual reported it, but the firm chose not to take corrective action over the matter.

For instance, a young clerk complained about the uncomfortable jokes that she received from her supervisor, and the executive director did not mind the complaint. Often, the authorities in the firm would shrug off the event as, “That is just the way Chris is,” telling the victim to ignore that person and his jokes.

Then, a year later, another person files a formal complaint, alleging that Chris repeatedly showed her vulgar pictures and even followed her home. In this case, the jury will take the previous matter into consideration – where the first young clerk was involved. They will also want to know why the organization ignored the first complaint and did not initiate an investigation.

If the jury finds that the jokes were just the start and if the executive director should have examined the initial complaint, the organization will be held liable. It is because they knew about the harassment and should have performed corrective action and made sure it would not happen again.

Any sexual assault, whether it occurred to a paid staff or a volunteer, will have a direct effect on the organization. It minimizes productivity and even scares away support from the volunteers who may have wanted to join the firm if not for the scandal. It also garners negative publicity and erodes the goodwill of the donors and the community.

Sexual Harassment Lawyer - Edward O’Donnell

Responding to the Harassment

If you are a volunteer at a nonprofit organization, you should be aware that it has several responsibilities to ensure the safety of everyone who works in the firm. The organization should show accountability when it comes to:

  • Protecting the constituents and the clients: The firm should ensure that everyone, including the staff and the volunteers, does not bully or harass patrons, clients, and members. It is the duty of the nonprofit to stand up for those who have experienced sexual assault in the workplace.
  • Safeguarding the employees: Volunteers, staff, and people who work at the organizations should be protected at all times in case of harassment by those in positions of authority. They should also be safe against those who are outside the firm, such as donors.
  • Defending the organization: All lawsuits should be taken care of, including those that relate to sexual harassment.

Sexual assault pertains to unwelcome sexual advances, no matter if it is physical, verbal, or visual. Examples include providing or offering employment but in exchange for sexual favors, verbal abuse that is sexual in nature, and inappropriate touching and other misconduct.

Employers, including those with a nonprofit organization who have at least 50 employees, are obligated to train new supervisors when it comes to preventing sexual assault. All supervisors are also required to undergo the training every two years. This requirement can be met by having employees take a course online, but many nonprofits believe this method to be ineffective.

Therefore, it is important that the organizations understand that training against sexual harassment should be a part of a program where discussion, suggestions, guidelines, and attention are included in the preparation. The goal is for everyone in the group to know the behaviors that are unacceptable and how they should respond if a certain issue arises.

Instances of sexual abuse of a volunteer are often handled by the Human Resources department of the organization. Staff, volunteers, and contractors (along with those who participate in sexual misconduct or any inappropriate behavior with the clients) should be terminated at once after finding proof that sexual assault took place.

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