It seems like every day there is a new accusation of sexual harassment in the workplace. Are you concerned that the next accusation may come from within your organization? Are you wondering if you have done enough to prevent this behavior?
While it is always advisable (and legally required) that employers deal with sexual harassment as soon as they become aware of it, this method alone is reactive at best, putting the organization’s brand, employee retention, productivity and bottom line at risk. It is much more effective to take steps to prevent this type of behavior, rather than to respond after an incident has occurred.
So, what can you and your organization do?
Create a Formal Policy
Make sure your policy is clear and direct, including a definition of sexual harassment and a commitment to providing a zero-tolerance workplace. Identify a specific, confidential reporting process for employees so they know who they can go to and how. Include anti-retaliatory language that prohibits retaliation against anyone who reports an incident of sexual harassment.
Talk About It
Don’t let your policy collect dust, discuss it. Have leadership and managers regularly discuss it with the employees. Reinforce your commitment to the policy through one-on-one and team meetings, emails, newsletters and company social media pages.
Enforce the policy
Treat all employees and their concerns equally. Respond to all reports of sexual harassment diligently. While some investigations may take time to conclude, you can assure inquiring employees that their concerns are being addressed. Reinforce that you will do everything you can to maintain confidentiality throughout the process.
Enforce zero-tolerance. If a claim is substantiated, fire the offender regardless of their title, even if this is a first offense. Not enforcing a zero-tolerance policy will damage your culture and employee productivity, not to mention increasing your legal liability.
Make sure training is required and provided regularly for all employees – some states legally require this. Ongoing trainings are an integral part of maintaining a zero-tolerance culture.
Provide separate training for employees and managers. Employees need to understand what is and is not considered acceptable behavior and what to do if they are victims of sexual harassment. Managers need to understand how to stop offensive behaviors, handle complaints, perform investigations and understand rules about anti-retaliation.
Creating a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated may not happen overnight. Adopting these ideas will show your commitment to your employees and reduce your organization’s legal liability. Remember, you are creating a culture, not responding to one. Be proactive. Be in the driver’s seat and create the rules. Being reactive will relegate you to the passenger’s seat, and you may end up somewhere you didn’t want to go.