Did you know that 40-70% of women and 10-20% of men experience sexual harassment at work?
Whether your employees are doing the day-to-day thing at the office or are gathered at a company party, they should be well informed of your company's sexual harassment policy and where to draw the line with their behavior. Here, we will offer some guidance on how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Step 1: Create A Strong Sexual Harassment Policy
Hopefully, you’ve already outlined the company’s sexual harassment policy in your Employee Handbook , where your employees have easy access to its contents. (You could also post it in a location where it can be frequently viewed by workers, such as the break room or an intranet). If you have not yet done so, here is an outline of what your policy should include:
The policy should begin with a statement about how the organization is committed to providing a zero-tolerance, discrimination and harassment-free workplace and that all employees are expected to follow this policy. It’s also a good idea to mention that no one who comes forward with a claim will be adversely affected in employment and include a definition of sexual harassment in the policy. Here is an example of the definition:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
Employers should also include a list of examples of behaviors that would be considered inappropriate, how employees should go about reporting harassment claims, as well as how harassers will be disciplined. Be sure to state, however, that the list is not all-inclusive and is provided as a guideline.
Step 2: Encourage Consensual Agreement Forms For Office Romances
Also known as “love contracts,” these forms are signed by the participants of the romantic relationship to ensure that both parties have entered the relationship willingly. Although there is some controversy over these contracts, they help to protect both the company as well as both parties involved. The forms ensure that no one is being pressured into the relationship, therefore preventing future cries of sexual harassment. Here is an outline of what your consensual agreement should acknowledge:
While the concept seems fairly basic, it’s a good idea to have some help putting these together, and then have them reviewed by your legal counsel. The last thing you want to do is be accused of sexual misconduct yourself because of the verbiage in your agreement! Make sure to get it in writing and get it signed!
Step 3: Never Laugh At Or Encourage Inappropriate Jokes
Some people have more vivid senses of humor than others; we all know that! Even though you may personally relate to someone’s vibrant sense of humor, there is a time and a place for everything. Not everyone may have that lovin’ feeling when it comes to joking around. Remind employees that others may find sexual jokes to be crude and unpleasant, instead of comical. If an employee makes an inappropriate comment or joke, be sure to tell them so. If it’s in a group setting, you certainly shouldn’t reprimand them publically, but you shouldn’t remain silent either. Otherwise, the rest of the staff will be standing around thinking “I can’t believe so-and-so said that and the boss didn’t say anything!”
Step 4: Keep Your Office Parties “PG” Rated
Everyone loves getting together and cutting loose for a fun time with their colleagues. Throwing summer picnics and get-togethers can be great for boosting the team morale. However, this is where many harassment issues begin. It may be a good idea to remind employees about the sexual harassment policy and the office dress code prior to your event, especially if alcohol will be involved!
Step 5: Ensure That All Supervisors Attend Anti-Harassment Workshops
All employees should understand the policy and how to report harassment. However, supervisors should receive additional training to ensure that they have a clear and uniform understanding about what to do and how to go about handling situations that may arise.
Step 6: Respond to Sexual Harassment Complaints Right Away
Taking immediate action to investigate and address a situation where an employee reports sexual harassment can not only decrease or eliminate your organization’s liability, but it also lets employees know that this kind of inappropriate behavior has consequences and will not be tolerated. Keep in mind, anything you write down during your investigation may turn out to be "Exhibit A" in a court room. Be cautious with the language you use.
Step 7: Prevent Retaliation
Many victims of sexual harassment are afraid to come forward with their complaint because of fear of retaliation by the harasser. This is why it is important to remind all employees that retaliating against someone for filing a sexual harassment claim is not only wrong, it’s against the law.
Your most powerful tool for keeping sexual harassment at bay is an effective prevention plan. Employers should make every effort to provide a safe and comfortable environment for their employees.
DSA HR Solutions offers Anti-Harassment Training Programs for employees and supervisors as well as investigative services for companies that require a professional harassment investigation.
We are a team of certified HR experts based out of the San Francisco Bay Area that provides HR consulting services to businesses nationwide.