Doing what you can to prevent sexual harassment is good for business because it protects both employees and your company. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to harass a job applicant or employee because of that person’s sex. This may include unwelcome touching or sexual comments, demands for sexual favors, or other physical or verbal harassment with sexual overtones. If your organization tolerates sexual harassment, it’s at risk of lawsuits and penalties.
Here are five steps every employer should take to help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
Establish an Anti-Harassment Policy
Every employer needs a strict anti-harassment policy. When you write it, include information about discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment. You may even want to include a policy about consensual romantic relationships between co-workers. Many policies include specifics about what is prohibited, including innuendoes, propositions, lewd remarks, “kidding” that is meant to bully others and display of graphic materials.
Finally, include information about how employees should report harassment should it occur. Have all employees sign notices that they have read and understand the policy. Give new employees a copy of the policy upon hiring, and distribute any updates to all employees.
Set up a training program to educate employees about what is and is not acceptable at your company, and what employees should do in different situations. Train supervisors and managers on how to recognize and eliminate sexual harassment, and about how they can protect employees from it. Provide information about what employees should do if they are subjected to or witness sexual harassment and what their rights are.
Hold these trainings regularly; twice a year or even quarterly is the most effective schedule. If your company is ever named in a sexual harassment complaint, investigators will want to see your policy records and training schedule. A strict anti-harassment policy and up-to-date records that show a strong history of anti-harassment training will be a key part of your defense.
Be Aware of Same-Sex Harassment
While same-sex harassment was often overlooked in the past, there has been a spike in same-sex harassment claims. In addition, it’s important to remember that both men and women may be the instigator or the victim. Make it clear to employees that all forms of sexual harassment are unacceptable at your company.
Walk the Walk
Cracking down on sexual harassment may involve a cultural shift at your company, but you will need to make clear to employees that sexual harassment is not acceptable. Inappropriate actions represent not only a risk to themselves but also to the company itself. People who are harassed must also feel safe going to a supervisor or HR to report the harassment without fear of reprisal. Provide different options for employees to make a complaint, in case they don’t feel comfortable going to a direct supervisor.
Understand the Risks
Most sexual harassment cases are settled out of court, but the ones that go to trial can be very expensive. Settlements often reach six figures, even before paying legal expenses. And to protect your company further, you may want to consider purchasing employment practices liability insurance.
Want to learn more? Contact us to talk about how to prevent sexual harassment at your company.
HR Solutions is a human resources outsourcing firm based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We eliminate human resources headaches for businesses with 10 to 1,000 employees by handling their payroll, employee benefits, regulatory compliance and other staffing needs. Contact us to learn how we can streamline your company’s human resources function to save money and reduce risk.