Sara Boyns is resuming the Workplace Law column formerly written by her friend and colleague Jacqueline McManus. Sara worked with Jacqueline as an associate and partner at Fenton & Keller, and has been a contributing author to Jacqueline’s column for over ten years.


I am the manager in a small company that does not have an employee handbook or a policy about sexual harassment and discrimination. We treat everyone like family. How important is it for my company to have these written policies?


California law requires all employers who have one or more employees to post information concerning laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The poster can be obtained at .

Employers are also required by law to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment in the workplace. One of the best tools for preventing and eliminating discrimination and harassment in the workplace is a written company policy, even in a small “family” work environment. The policy should contain the following:

  • A statement prohibiting sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, with examples of prohibited behavior. Sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, national origin and other protected categories is prohibited.
  • A statement that defines the individuals covered by the policy, including job applicants and employees, no matter what position they occupy in the company.
  • A statement making it clear that harassment and discrimination by employees, customers, independent contractors, and other third parties doing business with the employer is prohibited.
  • The definition of sexual harassment under state and federal laws.
  • A description of sexual harassment, including examples of visual, verbal and physical harassment.
  • The employer’s internal complaint process explaining the employee’s obligation to report harassment and discrimination and the method for making a complaint.
  • Language that encourages employees to report harassment and discrimination before they becomes severe and pervasive, and clearly tells them whom to report to. It is important to give employees at least two people to report to in case the employee does not feel comfortable reporting harassment to one individual. An employer may avoid liability if it takes steps to eliminate harassment before it becomes severe and pervasive and creates a “hostile environment.”
  • A statement that the employer will not retaliate against employees for complaining about harassment or discrimination. Retaliation should be stated in the policy as a separate violation of the company policy against harassment and discrimination.
  • A description of the investigation process with an emphasis on a speedy, thorough, and objective investigation that respects the rights of the accuser, the accused, and any witnesses.
  • A statement that prompt remedial action will be taken when warranted, up to and including discharge of employees who violate the policy.
  • The legal remedies and complaint process available through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
    Directions on how to contact the DFEH and EEOC.

Employers with 50 or more employees must provide at least two hours of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisory employees, and to all new supervisory employees within six months of assuming a supervisory position. Thereafter, covered employers must provide sexual harassment prevention training and education to each supervisory employee once every two years. A clearly written and communicated policy and training for supervisors are important tools for keeping your company free of unlawful harassment and discrimination. 
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