Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
Here are four ways to manage sexual harassment in the workplace.
1. Create and Communicate a Clear Harassment Policy
No matter the size of your workforce, the first step to preventing workplace harassment is creating an anti-harassment policy that details both unacceptable and acceptable behaviors. If you choose to prohibit employees from dating one another, this is the place you’d put that in writing.
A clear harassment policy lets your employees know what you will or will not tolerate and that you take sexual harassment seriously. The policy should also include the following:
- Definition of sexual harassment
- Complaint process and reporting procedures
- Anti-retaliation provisions
Make sure you communicate and review the policy in detail, and then have employees sign to acknowledge they have read and understand it. Keep the signed acknowledgement in each employee’s personnel file. In the event you ever need to defend your company against a harassment claim, the fact that you have a policy you can prove your employees know about, will help your case.
Assure employees they can report an incident of sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. Anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees who file harassment complaints or participate in an investigation. Adverse action includes demoting an employee, reducing his or her salary or even giving a negative performance appraisal when one isn’t warranted.
2. Train Employees about Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Implement anti-harassment training programs that go beyond your policy. It’s important employees understand the basic definition as well as the types of sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment Defined
By definition, sexual harassment can include all of the following:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment
Harassment becomes unlawful when:
- enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment (quid pro quo) or
- the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive (hostile work environment). Here’s a little more information on quid pro quo and hostile work environment:
- Quid pro quo
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual
- Tangible employment action against the victim (hiring, firing, changes in pay, benefits or work duties)
- Involves monetary loss or change in job (firing, demotion)
- Hostile work environment
- Speech or conduct that is severe and/or pervasive enough to create an abusive or hostile work environment
- Applies to items that are e-mailed, texted, electronically provided or displayed in the workplace that interfere with job performance or that create an abusive or hostile work environment
3. Train Supervisors about Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Training your leadership team about sexual harassment policies and procedures is an important component of managing sexual harassment. Meet with them separately from the rest of the staff and focus on making sure they understand how to recognize harassment, respond appropriately and prevent it when possible.
4. Investigate Sexual Harassment Claims Promptly and Thoroughly
Train supervisors to take immediate and appropriate action when an employee makes a complaint. Conducting a thorough investigation minimizes potential damages to employees – and your company.
Do you have additional questions about how to protect yourself and your employees? Be sure to check out our webinar on sexual harassment in the workplace.
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