Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

How to Recognize it, Establishing Procedures to Report it and How to Prevent it

With the rise in recent high profile sexual harassment cases, including Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Gretchen Carlson it is time to stop shying away from the uncomfortable topic and start bringing the reality of the situation to light.  To avoid costly litigation and lawsuits, companies must protect themselves and their employees by having policies and procedures in place and making sure their managers, supervisors and employees are properly trained.

By definition, “Sexual harassment” is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently persistent or offensive to unreasonably interfere with an employee’s job performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.” In the past year, the EEOC received approximately 27,000 charges of sexual harassment. However, on average, approximately 30% of sexual harassment complaints go unreported.

The first step in preventing harassment is establishing a zero-tolerance policy that:

  • Explains what harassment is
  • Provides examples of such behavior
  • States who to report harassment claims to
  • Explanation of complaint procedures
  • Assures confidentiality and no retaliation

The second step, after the policy is finalized and approved, is to provide harassment training for your managers and supervisors.  It is strongly recommended that supervisors and managers have separate training sessions from employees that teaches them what to do if they receive a complaint or observe inappropriate behavior.  Supervisors and managers also have a legal liability to ensure a workplace free from harassment.

The third step would be to conduct training for all employees.  Explain the company’s zero-tolerance policy using examples and activities of various types of harassment, discuss the complaint procedures, and encourage employees to speak up without the fear of retaliation.

Do not hesitate to properly investigate the alleged conduct.  Be proactive, even if you do not have an official complaint, pay attention to office gossip, comments made outside the office and messages on social media.  Failing to prevent an issue or ignoring an existing problem can have a negative effect that includes significant financial consequences. If the victim complains to the EEOC, the company will be the subject of an investigation, and possibly a lawsuit.

Depending on the facts of a case, actual out-of-pocket costs for a company can range anywhere from $100,000 to millions of dollars. Not including damaged reputation, loss of clients, customers and investors, as well as decreased employee morale and an inability to attract and retain talent.

If you have questions, need assistance writing your Sexual Harassment policy, would like to schedule Harassment Training or are looking for some guidance, contact the professional at HR Synergy today!