Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Today’s topic is a serious one: we are going to talk about sexual harassment in the workplace…how to recognize it, establishing procedures to report it, and how to prevent it. The goal is a zero tolerance, harassment-free workplace.

Despite decades of attention in the media and courts, sexual harassment remains a significant and costly problem in today’s business environment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, since 2010, more than 7,000 sexual harassment charges have been filed with the agency each year.

The first step in preventing harassment is establishing a zero tolerance policy. Clearly state that NO form of harassment will be accepted at your workplace, including not only sexual harassment, but also harassment due to race, religion, ethnic background, age or disability. Publish the policy in your handbook and post it prominently on your company intranet or internal website.

Next, offer employees training in how to recognize harassment. Make sure they understand what types of actions and behaviors constitute sexual harassment and what things do not constitute sexual harassment.

Whatever form harassment takes, the employer must intervene to stop it. Establish a formal grievance system or process, and let your employees know what it is. As a first step, it is helpful for the victim to directly address the harasser and clearly inform him or her that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If the behavior doesn’t end there, the person being harassed should engage any complaint or grievance system in place at the company to report the alleged sexual harassment.

Make this process as simple as possible for your employees by providing accessible points of contacts for employees to bring complaints. Your policy should also assure employees that they will not suffer retaliation as a result of any complaint made in good faith. Retaliation is against the law.

The most efficient solution to the problem of sexual harassment is to prevent it in the first place. In addition to a formal policy, training and reporting process, it is in an employer’s best interest to discourage some of the behaviors that might lead to sexual harassment, such as inappropriate joking, using crude language and posting sexually suggestive photographs in the workplace. While it is impossible to monitor the behavior of every individual employee, setting reasonable standards and raising sensitivity can make it less likely that a line will be crossed.

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