The voices of those experiencing sexual harassment grow louder as employees continue to speak out about their personal experiences. With the power that comes from numbers and national awareness of this issue, employers should seize the opportunity by taking proactive steps that help foster a workplace environment that is free of sexual harassment and other misconduct. Indeed, this issue is not one that is limited to sensationalized media reports that center around entertainers, politicians, and network stars, but could just as easily show up at your office door.
Are you being proactive in preventing sexual harassment? And are you ready to take appropriate action if one of your employees reports that he or she believes they have been the victim of sexual harassment? What will you do if your employee demands the immediate firing of the (alleged) offending co-employee, or else they will call the police and/or consult with an attorney?
- Employers should be taking proactive steps in advance of a reported instance of sexual harassment. Implementing best practices for preventing harassment, as well as reasoned handling and investigation when an employee reports any grievances can go far in preventing misconduct on the front end, stabilizing the situation when instances of harassment are reported, and minimizing the legal risk. Implement a written policy and provide it to employees.
- Clearly assure employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
- Explain how a sexual harassment investigation will be handled. Who should the employee report to (include more than one option), and who in the company will be privy to the complaint?
- State that there will be no retaliation for bringing a sexual harassment situation to light.
- Explain the repercussions that will follow if sexual harassment occurs, i.e., counseling to termination depending on the egregiousness.
- Adhere to these policies. To offer protections to your employees and the company itself, your policies must be active, living polices, regularly reviewed with employees.
- Train your employees to assure they clearly understand your company policies, danger zones, and sexual harassment standards. Specifically, what conduct is, and is not, acceptable. In particular, supervising personnel should be trained and knowledgeable in how to spot signs of sexual harassment and know how to best intervene to address inappropriate conduct. Preventing harassment on the front end is the best line of defense and fosters a workplace that is both collegial and productive.
- Keep the message alive past the training. Continue to reinforce to supervising personnel that they should frequently remind those working under them of both the conduct expected of them and the processes in place for reporting sexual harassment.
- Consult with professionals to assure your policies and training efforts are adequate to offer protection to your company.
The responsibility for maintaining a work place free of sexual harassment falls squarely on the employer. The culture of your company and the policies and the processes you have in place can prevent and/or protect your employees from sexual harassment and minimize risk for the Company.