Sexual harassment in the workplace can come at a steep price. And not just in dollar amounts. For victims, it can result in a loss of morale in the workplace, while for businesses, it can cost millions due to a damaged brand image from settling with victims.
Prevention is better than cure, and the right training and policies can make it happen.
Preventing sexual harassment means implementing training programs around policies that enable employees to deal with and report harassment in the workplace. Additionally, it:
- Provides a framework that communicates sexual harassment laws to employees
- Supports the type of environment management hopes to foster
- Establishes requirements and expectations regarding employee behavior in the workplace
What should be included in a sexual harassment policy? Should employees be trained according to it? Here is an overview:
Define Sexual Harassment Clearly
Is it okay to compliment a colleague on their looks? How limited should physical contact be in the workplace? Making such distinctions can be challenging.
Many people are confused as to what constitutes as sexual harassment
. Therefore, it’s best to include a clear definition of harassment as a form of discrimination for your policy.
The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) defines workplace harassment as any form of unwelcome sexual advances that creates a hostile work environment or unreasonably interferes with a person’s performance. The victim can be of any gender and not necessarily of the opposite sex.
This also includes quid pro quo harassment or when an authority figure (e.g. a manager) merely hints that they will reward the victim (e.g. in the form of a raise or promotion) in return for sexual favors.
Lay Out Steps for Reporting Violations
Employees should be comfortable reporting any unlawful behavior. Therefore, your policy should clearly lay out procedures that make it easy for them to do so.
For example, the policy should say that all complaints and incidents must be reported as soon as possible. In order for investigations to be effective, all complaints must describe the alleged offensive behavior(s) or incident(s) in detail. Also, based on the identity of the harasser (e.g. a coworker, manager, or vice president), complaints may need to go through specific individuals within an organization.
Include Disciplinary Measures for Violations
An employee reports that their supervisor keeps making sexually suggestive comments on their appearance. Their colleagues are witnesses and the supervisor is in clear violation of the company’s workplace harassment policy. How does the HR deal with it?
In the event of such claims, a policy should clearly state appropriate and corrective actions, such as an immediate discharge of the offending employee.
Customize it to Your Business Needs
Relying on a policy template can only get you so far. Every business is different, and it is recommended to customize your policy by drafting your own clauses. There is no law that says you can’t. Also, do some research and review harassment policies from other similar businesses.
Hire a Lawyer for Legal Review
You are free to include anything you think is necessary in your policy. However, you can’t be sure if what you wrote complies with the law. To prevent legal liability, hire a lawyer to review your policy before you implement it.
A lawyer experienced in overseeing workplace policies will ensure that you are doing everything necessary to protect employees, your business, and employers from sexual harassment and sexual harassment claims.
Train to Encourage Compliance
It’s not just enough to hand employees a copy of your policy. Workplaces today have a diverse mix of ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds. And everyone regards sexual harassment differently.
To ensure that all your employees understand the rules of engagement, base your training around harassment policies to provide a clear idea of what counts as sexual harassment. For more impact, use case studies, training videos, or introduce an anti-harassment course
in your sessions. The training should also review how the law deals with workplace harassment and outline the consequences of violations.
When it comes to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, an anti-harassment policy is the most effective weapon. While drafting a policy, the HR personnel and management should clearly define what constitutes as sexual harassment, lay out proper procedures for reporting violations, customize it according to their corporate culture, seek professional help, and train employees to encourage compliance.