Sexual harassment in the workplace can rob your employees of a sense of safety and relaxation at work. The damage caused can last a lifetime and permanently affect otherwise positive memories and experiences. And what to do about harassment? Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the office can take many forms, making it difficult to address. Too often, sexual harassment in the workplace is an overlooked threat to employee well-being; as an employer, you must ensure that your employees are protected from this type of threat. Below are some guidelines you can use to effectively prevent and combat sexual harassment in your company.
Constitute a Sexual Harassment Policy
Create a handbook for your employees that reduces gray areas. Your handbook should clarify what exactly constitutes sexual harassment: a series of tasks dealing with negative jokes, gestures, suggestive words about clothing, and unwelcome comments and responses.
Your handbook should also include a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment or retaliation against reporting sexual harassment. Your handbook should also establish a clear and simple process for filing a sexual harassment complaint and indicate that all complaints will be thoroughly investigated. Your coverage process should also include a way to bypass the chain of command, if necessary: an employee is not required to file a sexual harassment complaint against his or her harasser. There must be a written reference for employees to determine their position of non-tolerance of sexual harassment.
Train Your Company
A handbook is critical to ensure that employees have a concrete resource to refer to and mention when they see or experience sexual harassment. However, it is also important to remind employees of your company’s policies regularly. Therefore, conduct employee training at least twice a year to evaluate your handbook and keep it fresh in their minds. Invite questions. Encourage conversations. Inform them of the critique submission system. State in clear terms your company’s commitment to sexual harassment. On the other side of the coin, train your managers on how best to handle sexual harassment complaints. You might invite an expert to consult with your managers on the issue. It can be difficult to effectively handle a harassment complaint, especially if you have no experience or training. In the worst case, a complaint is dismissed because a manager feels unable to handle the matter effectively.
Consider Complaints Seriously
If you want employees to trust your company with these reports, they may need to see managers actively (and subtly) working to resolve these complaints. If you are the one handling a complaint, you need to be able to put aside your personal opinions or any other connection to the offender. If you believe that the accused person “would never do such a thing,” you should seriously reconsider your involvement in handling this situation: you have demonstrated that you are incapable of being impartial.
Monitor Your Working Place
Invite your managers to walk around the work area. A manager who is regularly outdoors with employees (rather than locked in a private office) is more likely to detect sexual harassment.
Of course, not all forms of sexual harassment are easily visible (digital communications, for example), but having managers in the workspace increases visibility – in both directions – and allows managers to get a clearer picture of their employees’ civility, which could help address a future incident of sexual harassment. The continued or unpredictable presence of a powerful figure can help prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place. As companies and organizations, we have a responsibility to create a safe environment in which employees can perform at their best. A zero-tolerance policy for behaviors like sexual harassment is an important first step in preventing sexual harassment from happening in the first place.