There has always been sexual harassment in the workplace. Long gone, however, are the Mad Men-era days when it was considered harmless, or a reality that must be accepted. When congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, businesses started being held to new standards of what is considered appropriate or acceptable. While this was a step forward, it wasn't an all-encompassing solution.
It's common to become complacent about long-standing injustices—until something happens to remind us how prevalent the issue still is. Recent events and allegations within Hollywood have brought sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, back to the forefront of today’s news. As an employer, you are responsible for taking steps to help prevent workplace harassment by creating a culture and system within your office that will reduce the chance for such inappropriate behaviors to occur. If it does occur, it's also your duty to provide actionable ways for your employees to safely and comfortably express their experience.
Swyft Filings suggests taking these 8 actions for employers to decrease the possibility of sexual harassment within businesses:
1. Maintain accessible, up-to-date policies
Creating a clear and concise policy regarding the company’s definition of, and position on, sexual harassment is critical in setting the tone for how both new and current employees should conduct themselves in the workplace. Businesses should include detailed consequences for violating any of the company’s policies. A study of 92 different companies revealed that 66.6% of employees weren't even aware of their employer’s harassment policy. Be proactive in ensuring your policy is readily available to new members of the team, as well as current staff members.
2. Offer Multiple Channels for Complaints
A victim of harassment may have reservations about coming forward depending on who the harasser is. If the harasser is a manager, for instance, this could prevent an employee from reporting the abuse. To create an environment where employees feel they can turn to more than one person for guidance or assistance, it's imperative for employers to provide multiple channels for reporting sexual harassment. Clearly provide your employees with at least three channels for complaint; that could be an HR Department, different members of management, or even a complaint hotline.
3. Support a Human Resources Department
Don’t cut the corners when it comes to maintaining and supporting a human resources department. As a business function, HR helps ensure that your company operates smoothly and provides a safe place for employees to express any frustrations or report aggressive behavior in the workplace. Human Resources plays a critical role in managing and investigating allegations of sexual harassment. Make it clear that employees should notify Human Resources right away if they believe that they are being harassed.
4. Stand By a Zero-Tolerance Policy
Set the standard for policy violation to be zero-tolerance. This makes it incredibly clear for all members of the company that any violations of the sexual harassment policy, or overall harassment policy, will not be taken lightly. This type of standard discourages any offenses. As discussed above, make sure employees fully understand what constitutes as harassment so there's no room for confusion. Employers and their management team need to take an active stance against violations and should put into effect the appropriate punishments, including (but not limited to) termination of employment.
5. Provide Sexual Harassment Training for Positions at All Levels
It's often standard protocol for employers to train new hires about sexual harassment in the workplace as part of their onboarding process. While such new employee training is strongly encouraged, employers shouldn't forget about ensuring their leadership and management team are also up to par with training. A culture of educated employees from the top down can help eliminate sexual harassment claims and occurrences. Required attendance of an annual sexual harassment training will ensure everyone's on the same page.
6. Never Participate in Harassment
It should go without saying that an employer shouldn't implicate themselves in any situations where their actions could be misconstrued as sexual harassment. Even so, instances like this do occur. As an employer, take precautions in workplace behavior to maintain appropriateness and professionalism at all times. Not only do you want to avoid ever making anyone uncomfortable, but you also want to positively influence a healthy and stable work environment.
7. Survey Employees
Releasing monthly, quarterly, or yearly surveys is a beneficial approach for gauging employee satisfaction levels, including how the company is handling sexual harassment. This provides a safe space for employees who would prefer to remain anonymous for any fear of retribution or retaliation. Surveys can also reveal potential offenders that should be kept an eye on, spoken to, or investigated.
8. Take All Complaints Seriously
There will be times where immature, childish, or unprofessional behavior is confused with workplace harassment. Regardless of any confusion, employers and HR departments owe it to every employee to hold all complaints to the same standard, providing the same amount of discretion and fact-finding into each allegation. Once the investigation has been complete, you can review whether disciplinary action is necessary or take alternative routes, like coaching and counseling for unprofessional behavior.