Sexual harassment in the workplace is no small matter and would ideally be investigated and dealt with as soon as a complaint is lodged. Unfortunately, however, because the nature of sexual harassment tends to be more subtle than many people assume, it is often allowed to continue for far too long.
The first thing that is important to realize is that sexual harassment doesn’t have to be physical; it can be verbal, in the way of lewd comments or sexual innuendoes, or even as subtle as body language, unnecessary staring or sexually explicit content such as pictures, posters or screensavers.
Another thing that many people don’t realize is that women aren’t necessarily the only targets of workplace harassment. A survey carried out by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 22% of women and 5% of men had previously experienced sexual harassment at work.
The bottom line is that as an employer it is your job to take appropriate remedial action with any behavior that intimidates or causes employees feel uncomfortable and prevents them from carrying out their work effectively.
Employers may even be held legally responsible for sexual harassment that occurs in their workplace unless they have taken reasonable steps to prevent it from happening. With this in mind, here are a few tips for both preventing and dealing with sexual harassment.
Develop and implement a sexual harassment policy
A clear sexual harassment policy is an important preventative measure that all companies and businesses, whether large or small, should have.
The policy should include:
● An opening statement outlining the company’s stance on sexual harassment
● A clear definition of sexual harassment
● A section on the company’s objectives regarding sexual harassment
● Examples of sexual harassment that are relevant to your particular workplace
● A statement on what is and what is not sexual harassment
● A statement about the laws governing sexual harassment in the workplace
● A section on the consequences and action that will be taken should the policy be breached
● Information on where complaints can be made and how help or advice can be obtained, as well as the employee’s options for dealing with the harassment
Once you have put together a clear and effective sexual harassment policy, you must take the time to make sure that your employees are aware of it and understand its contents. This can be done during a staff meeting, where all employees receive a copy and are given a chance to comment or ask questions.
If you feel it would be better done anonymously, you can email copies and have employees hand in their questions or comments anonymously. Some employers choose to have all employees sign a statement acknowledging that they have received and understood the policy.
The policy should be easily accessible to employees at all times and can be displayed on a notice board, on the intranet and included in induction manuals for all new and current employees.
Hold yearly training sessions for employees, managers and supervisors
Along with having a sexual harassment policy in place, it is important to conduct regular (at least yearly) training sessions for all employees, managers and supervisors. Many states require employers to provide a minimum amount of sexual harassment training, but even if yours doesn’t, it’s still a good practice to implement.
Such training sessions will help everyone to understand and be aware of what sexual harassment is and what they can expect if it does occur. Separate training sessions can be given to supervisors and managers to ensure that they understand how to deal with complaints regarding workplace harassment.
Investigate all complaints immediately and thoroughly
All complaints of sexual harassment must be investigated immediately to prevent any further infractions and to ensure that you will not be held liable for any sexual harassment that has occurred in your workplace.
Complaints and investigations should be kept as confidential as is possible under the circumstances, and those lodging the complaint should be given the option of remaining anonymous.
Give the alleged harasser a chance to accept or deny the allegations and share their own side of the story. When possible, obtain written statements from both parties and keep track of the actions that were taken in case of a future lawsuit.
Take appropriate disciplinary action
If your investigations lead you to believe that sexual harassment has indeed occurred, you must determine an appropriate disciplinary measure.
In some cases, issuing a written warning to the harasser will be enough, while in more serious situations suspension or termination may be required. This is where your sexual harassment policy will come in handy.
The final decision should be confirmed in writing to the harasser and a copy should be put in their file.
About the Author:
Patrick Del Rosario is a Filipino business and career ninja. He is part of Open http://blog.opencolleges.edu.au. Aside from blogging and being a business ninja, Patrick is an aspiring photographer. If you want to feature his writings on your site, connect with him at Google + or drop a line at patrick (at) oc.edu.au.