As an employer, there are many reasons to take any and all necessary actions to maintain a workplace free of sexual harassment. Not only is it the morally upright thing to do, but it is also wise in a business sense. Sexual harassment in the workplace can cost you dearly, especially because it is illegal and can lead to lawsuits on top of the cost of poor productivity and employee engagement issues.
Each state, as well as federal law, prohibits sexual harassment. In order to ensure that you protect your employees from sexual harassment - and your company from sexual harassment lawsuits - we recommend taking these five steps.
First, it’s important to understand how sexual harassment is legally defined. Any conduct that can create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment can be considered sexual harassment. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, manager, coworker, or even a non-employee in certain cases.
Examples of workplace sexual harassment include:
A crucial step toward reducing sexual harassment is creating a clear sexual harassment policy that all employees must agree to. In your employee handbook, you should have a policy that:
At least once a year, you should conduct training sessions for managers and supervisors that educate them about sexual harassment and how to deal with sexual harassment complaints.
Separately, you should hold yearly training sessions for all employees that focus on the following:
During these trainings, be sure to encourage employees to make a complaint if something happens to them and know that they will not be retaliated against in any way.
Note that some states even require employers to conduct sexual harassment training, and others strongly encourage it even if it is not legally required.
It’s important that you do not simply rely on your employees to make a complaint if something happens. Instead, be proactive and vigilant in monitoring your workplace for any signs of sexual harassment.
Check in with your employees on a regular basis to discuss the work environment and receive feedback. Look around for any potentially offensive items or images. Keep your ear open for inappropriate jokes, language, or name-calling. Be in touch with managers and supervisors, and create a company culture in which lines of communication are open, so you are able to identify sexual harassment when it happens.
It’s also important to create a respectful company culture in which people do not feel that they can toe the line of sexual harassment. A company norm to make jokes about employees “in good fun” can easily cross the line.
If somebody complains about sexual harassment, immediately proceed to follow your stated policy and investigate the complaint. If you find that the complaint is valid, take swift action to properly punish or fire the perpetrator.
It is also important to keep the victim’s information confidential. It is just as crucial to make sure that the victim does not experience any retaliation for making a complaint as it is to take action against the perpetrator. Follow up with the victim in the future to check in about how they are doing and make sure they are no longer experiencing any harassment and that nobody has retaliated against them.
Note that a failure to properly investigate and respond to sexual harassment complaints opens you up to legal action from not only your employee but also the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).