How to Manage Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious, ongoing issue that every business, whether small or large, should be prepared to handle. The damage that just one incident can cause to a company is staggering, especially if you consider the cost of lost business due to negative media or word of mouth.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, verbal statements, inquiries on sexual favors, and offensive remarks about a certain sex. These remarks do not even have to be made to a specific individual for them to be considered sexual harassment. Moreover, sexual harassment can come from both employees and non-employees, such as customers, vendors and clients who interact with employees on the job.
Create a Plan
The federal definition of sexual harassment in the workplace leaves little room for businesses to mitigate their responsibilities when it comes to handling these matters. These situations simply cannot be ignored without the potential for serious repercussions. Therefore it is essential that every employer have a plan in place detailing company policy on how they will act to address future incidents. This plan should include policy on how alleged victims and harassers are to be treated, how the internal investigation will proceed and who will be in charge of handling the entire matter. When this information is available to all parties, the entire process may go more smoothly.
Provide Educational Opportunities for Workers
The best way to conquer a problem is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. There are few areas of company culture and business that show this to be true more than the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. In far more cases than not, the parties who are guilty of sexual harassment have no idea that their behavior is illegal or unwanted. They may understand that it is off-color or borderline, but they may actually have no idea that they are guilty of sexually harassing their peers. Young, inexperienced workers are particularly vulnerable to their own ignorance. Couple this inexperience with the comradery that can develop between close workers in small businesses, and it can be a recipe for disaster. Setting up required sexual harassment training can address and potentially prevent many of these issues from arising, and may protect businesses from the negative repercussions of future claims.
Set Clear Guidelines
One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make when addressing allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace is not having clear rules and guidelines in place to determine what is acceptable and what is not. Since not all harassment is as obvious as refusing to sleep with the boss and getting fired, even after an educational course it may be beneficial to set out clear guidelines on the matter. These expectations could be on display with other legally required notices. When everyone knows what is required and what behaviors are prohibited, the burden of the matter lies more on the employee’s actions than any question about whether or not they knew what they were doing was wrong.
Take Every Complaint Seriously
No matter how an employer views its employees, it should never disregard or downplay any allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. Not only is it a really poor business decision, but it is unethical as well. If a certain woman at work is deemed a ïflirtï by her coworkers and managers and then complains of sexual harassment, it should have no bearing on how quickly an investigation is begun or even on its outcome. Instead, the investigation should focus on what the alleged harasser did or said and whether or not it was in violation of company policy and could be considered covered under the legal definition of sexual harassment. While it may be difficult to do, employers must place their personal opinions aside in these situations and simply look at the facts. If they don’t, they may face an entirely new headache in the form of EEOC violations and a sexual harassment lawsuit.
If an employee complains of sexual harassment, a business really has only one smart option: handle it as quickly and discretely as possible. Be objective, be clear on expectations, and be clear about what will happen if a person is found to be engaging in sexually harassing behavior. Only after fully addressing these issues in a timely manner can a business be sure that it has met the burdens placed on it by the law, and done all it can to protected itself from future legal ramifications. To learn more about bettering your business environment and building the best team of employees, consult the other tools and articles available on Mighty Recruiter.