All employees should feel safe to learn, work and grow.
Sexual harassment can eliminate your employees’ sense of safety and comfort at work. The damage caused can be lifelong and forever tarnish otherwise positive memories and experiences. Too often, sexual harassment is a threat to employee wellbeing that is overlooked — as an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure your employees are safe from these kinds of threats.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment can come in many forms, making it difficult to respond to and handle. Nonetheless, it must be addressed. Here are some policies you can implement to work towards preventing and effectively handling sexual harassment in your organization.
Adopt a Sexual Harassment Policy
Create a handbook for your employees that reduces gray areas. Your handbook should make it clear what sexual harassment is: a range of actions, including (but certainly not limited to) the following.
- “Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments and repartee.
- Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker’s back, grabbing an employee around the waist, or interfering with an employee’s ability to move.
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters.”
Ultimately, sexual harassment is any unwanted action or conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, threatening, or hostile work environment. It is paramount that your handbook clearly defines sexual harassment.
“State in clear terms how seriously your organization takes sexual harassment.”
Your handbook should also state a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment or retaliation against reporting instances of sexual harassment. Your handbook should also set out a clear and simple procedure for submitting a complaint regarding sexual harassment, noting that all reports will be fully investigated. Your reporting procedure must also include a method for circumventing chain of command if necessary: you don’t want an employee to have to make a sexual harassment claim to their harasser.
It is key to make sure there is a written reference for employees that establishes your no-tolerance stance towards sexual harassment.
Train Your Organization
A handbook is key in ensuring that employees have a tangible resource they can review and reference if they do find themselves experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment. But it’s also important to make sure employees are regularly reminded of your organization’s policies. So, at least twice a year, hold a training session for your employees to review your handbook and keep it fresh in their minds. Encourage questions. Encourage conversation. Remind them of the complaint submission system. State in clear terms how seriously your organization takes sexual harassment.
On the other side of the coin, train your supervisors on how to handle reports of sexual harassment. It may be wise to invite a professional to speak to your supervisors about the issue. It can be difficult to effectively oversee a harassment claim, especially without training or experience. The worst case scenario is a complaint that is dismissed because a supervisor feels unable to effectively handle the situation.
Take All Complaints Seriously
This should go without saying, but when you receive a complaint, it is paramount that you take it extremely seriously. If you want employees to trust your organization with these reports, they will have to see supervisors actively (and discreetly) working to resolve these complaints.
If you’re the one handling a complaint, you must be able to set aside your personal views or any connections to the perpetrator. If you think the accused person “just wouldn’t do that”, you should seriously reconsider your involvement in management of the situation — you’ve demonstrated that you’re not capable of being impartial.
Monitor Your Workplace
Encourage your supervisors to walk around the workspace. A supervisor regularly out in the open with employees (and not hiding in a personal office) will be more likely to spot instances of sexual harassment in the work environment.
Of course, not all forms of sexual harassment are easily spotted (digital communications, for example) but having your supervisors in the workspace will increase visibility — in both directions and allow your supervisors to get a stronger sense of the culture of the employees which might assist when handling a future occurrence of sexual harassment.
The constant or unpredictable presence of an authority figure may discourage sexual harassment from occurring in the first place.
As businesses and organizations, we are responsible for providing a safe environment in which employees can do their best. A zero-tolerance policy for behaviors like sexual harassment is an important first step toward creating the work environment your employees deserve.