How to Prevent and Address Sexual Harassment in Your Company
Allegations made about producer Harvey Weinstein engaging in years of rampant sexual harassment have focused people on the issue. This and other high-profile cases — in business and politics — have heightened awareness of the problem. At your firm, preparation in knowing what to do to respond to allegations is key to preventing them from happening. Employees and managers need to be effectively trained.
Ensure that your organization is doing everything possible to prevent sexual and unlawful harassment. The burden of preventing sexual harassment rests on the employer — you are responsible for providing employees with a work environment that doesn't discriminate and is free of harassment. You are required by law to have taken all reasonable steps to prevent and deal with harassment in your workplace. If you haven't, you may be liable, even if you're unaware that one of your employees was harassing another.
You should develop specific policies to combat sexual harassment in your workplace. Here are some ways to prevent and address this issue in your company.
- Create a strong policy and an implementation process that let everyone know that you mean it. A clear statement of intent will reflect a real commitment to recognizing the importance of the fight against sexual harassment in your workplace.
- Anti-harassment policies explain what harassment is, tell all employees that harassment will not be tolerated, and set out how employees and managers should respond to incidents.
- Your policy should set a detailed mechanism for employees to make complaints if sexual harassment occurs.
- Having an effective policy and procedures, coupled with anti-harassment training for all staff, will assist in prevention and support individuals who are being harassed when they come forward, ensuring that the problem is addressed quickly and effectively.
- Properly investigating sexual harassment complaints helps protect your firm.
Courts have held that an employer who responds quickly and effectively to a complaint by taking steps to remedy the situation and prevent future harassment will not be liable to the same extent, if at all, as an employer who fails to adopt steps such as these:
- Provide education and information about harassment to all staff on a regular basis.
- The circulation of information, open communication and guidance are particularly important in removing the silence that often surrounds the taboo of sexual harassment.
- Information sessions, personnel meetings, group discussion and problem-solving can prove very effective.
- Staff should be informed by means of guidelines and staff development programs at work of the best ways of coping with harassment.
- Make sure all managers and supervisors understand their responsibility for providing a harassment-free work environment. Training, information and education will ensure this.
- Appropriately discipline employees who harass other employees.
- Provide protection and support for employees who feel they are being harassed.
- Take action to eliminate discriminatory jokes, posters, graffiti, email and photos at your work site.
You should provide a mechanism for addressing sexual harassment in a confidential and sensitive manner after a grievance has been filed. A well-constructed and well-implemented plan within an organization may stop inappropriate conduct before it creates a problem for individual employees or the company.
Having policies in place for preventing and dealing with sexual harassment will save you a lot of headaches and costly lawsuits. Sexual harassment is prosecuted under the same federal laws used to prosecute employers for race and religious discrimination. It's important for you to take sexual harassment as seriously as other forms of discrimination.
Allegations of sexual harassment can have a lasting impact on your small business and never should be taken lightly. This is just an introduction to a highly charged and complex field. Let us know how we can help with the specifics in your company.