Roger Ailes. Matt Lauer. Bill O’Reilly. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K. Mark Halperin. We’ve seen over a dozen high profile sexual harassment cases in the media over the past year. Victims began the #metoo movement in late 2017, a hashtag used on social media to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.
In fact, 85% of women claim they have been sexually harassed at work, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The issue has forced business owners and lawmakers to ask themselves what businesses can do to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Identifying sexual harassment
Before discussing ways to properly address the issue, let’s take a look at how the law defines sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is behavior of a sexual nature, sexual advances or request for sexual favors that are unwanted by its target. The harassment can be either verbal or physical in nature. The law also includes offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. The victim or the harasser can be either a woman or a man.
It’s important to note that there are no laws against teasing or making isolated comments. The problem is, this behavior can lead to harassment when it is so frequent or severe that creates a hostile work environment. It is in a businesses’ best interest to eliminate the behavior altogether. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to create, implement and enforce anti-harassment policies. Additionally, sexual harassment training for both employees and supervisors will help eliminate the harassment type behaviors.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all of your employees. Moreover, a safe and positive working environment will encourage positive relationships, boost morale and enhance productivity. It should be noted that not all states require sexual harassment training, and those that do may require different types of training. HR experts highly encourage all businesses to conduct training with both employees and supervisors in an effort to prevent sexual harassment.
The bottom line is, employers may be held liable for sexual harassment claims unless they develop, communicate and enforce policies defining and banning sexual harassment. Therefore, it is critical you develop an anti-harassment policy for your company. You should reference your state laws for specifics regarding policies. Store your policy in your Employee Handbook with the rest of your company policies. When you distribute an Employee Handbook to a new employee or a new version of your Employee Handbook to all employees, be sure to collect a sign off (sample here) and store it in the personnel file.
Sexual harassment training is a supplemental way to protect your company, supervisors and employees by providing consistent education on expected behavior and how to handle unwanted advances to all employees.
Make your training count.
These 5 details will make a significant impact on your sexual harassment training. (Please note that some states have specific requirements for sexual harassment training including how often you need to train.)
Definition of ‘sexual harassment.’ Communicate the way the law defines sexual harassment for managers and employees, so they can consider real-life examples and identify the unwanted behaviors.
Give relevant examples. Use relevant examples of different types of harassment so employees will learn to recognize physical, verbal and non-verbal forms of sexual harassment. For example, you can use current video segments as examples and ask employees to identify sexual harassment behaviors.
- Physical examples – touching, holding, grabbing, hugging, kissing, physical assault, rape
- Verbal examples – offensive jokes and language, threats, sexual or suggestive comments
- Non-verbal examples – staring at a person’s body, leaning over someone at a desk, offensive gestures or motions, circulating offensive materials
Share tips to avoid the ‘hassler’ label. No one wants to inadvertently be mistaken for the predator. Provide tips on ways employees can be mindful of their behavior in the workplace to avoid those murky gray areas.
Provide a safe space for questions and dialog. Conduct an open discussion about why sexual harassment has become an issue and why there is harm in the behavior. Recognize the training session as a safe place to ask questions and start conversations.
Communicate clear direction on filing complaints. Give employees several specific people in the organization they can turn to with any questions complaints. Appoint more than one person to take complaints or questions, preferably one of each sex. This may help with an employee hesitant to make the complaint to someone of a specific sex, or if your point of contact is the person with the behavior in question. Also, review the process of filing a complaint. Let employees know what will happen once a complaint is filed, and when they can expect follow up.
What else can I do?
Sexual harassment training is a critical component of an organization’s compliance initiatives. For more information on sexual harassment training, or general employment compliance questions, contact Tandem HR today at 630.928.0510.
Tandem HR provides custom, high-touch human resource solutions to small and mid-sized organizations. Our HR experts allow executives to focus on growing their business while we manage the administrative aspects of human resources like payroll processing, benefits administration, compliance, risk management, employee relations and much more. Learn more at tandemhr.com.