Recent stories about celebrities, such as Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein, have made sexual harassment a top issue. It’s clear. Companies must find better ways to protect their workers.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
The exact definition of sexual harassment can be elusive, but generally breaks down into two categories.
Quid Pro Quo – Quid Pro Quo is a Latin phrase that translates to “Something for Something.” In this type of harassment, a work benefit is tied to a sexual favor. Usually this involves a supervisor and a subordinate.
Hostile Work Environment – Hostile environments include a wide array of intimidating and unwelcome behavior ranging from offensive jokes to an invasion of privacy to inappropriate décor.
How Can Our Organization Prevent Sexual Harassment?
Although specific regulations vary from region to region, all companies have a moral and legal obligation to stop sexual harassment within the workplace. Although by no means an exhaustive list, these suggestions may serve as a basic guide.
Create a Policy
The first step is to put your company’s policy in writing. Seek out professional legal advice to make sure your organization is compliant with federal, state and local laws. Clarify behaviors that are considered unacceptable, even if they are not illegal. Publish the document in the employee handbook, and make sure everyone has a copy.
Outline a Clear Process
What should employees do when confronted with an uncomfortable situation? How should a manager respond to a claim? Who can employees report to if they need to bypass a supervisor? How does the investigative process proceed? What should an individual do if the inappropriate behavior continues? These questions should be regularly addressed through both documentation and training. If something seems amiss, everyone within the organization should know the exact steps they need to follow.
Sexual misconduct often goes unreported because the victim is afraid of revenge (Psychology Today, 2017). Unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded. Those in positions of power often threaten jobs, careers and even lives. Although companies cannot guarantee confidentiality, safeguards should be publicized, clearly defined and effectively implemented to protect those who file reports.
Of course, illegal behavior results in termination. However, sometimes harassment can be subtle. Address disciplinary measures for minor offenses versus more serious infractions, as well as repetitive behavior versus one-time bad judgement calls. To make the policy as successful as possible, emphasize a zero-tolerance policy where every incident is taken seriously.
Train and Retrain
Training should be conducted at least annually if not more frequently (Some states have training requirements). Although documentation is a good first step, regular review will help to reinforce policies. Whenever possible training, should be live and interactive instead of passive. This may be uncomfortable at first, but activities such as role playing will be more applicable and memorable than simply reading over or presenting information.
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