Recently, sexual harassment allegations have made headlines in the entertainment, political, and corporate worlds. Several high- profile individuals in these areas have found themselves entangled in harassment scandals. However, sexual harassment can happen at all levels and all sizes of companies.
A recent Wall Street Journal poll cites that nearly half of working women have experienced unwelcome sexual advances or verbal and physical harassment in the workplace. With the spotlight on sexual harassment these days, many companies are revamping their sexual harassment policies to protect themselves and their employees. An employment law attorney can help you make or restructure your policy for today’s office environment.
Your sexual harassment policy should be more than just a piece of paper with rules for employees to sign and file. It should be a reinforced commitment and a part of your company culture that you will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Furthermore, victims of sexual harassment or employees who know about it should not have to worry about retaliation because they report it. Your company needs to emphasize the dire consequences of sexual harassment. All employees should feel safe and free to pursue their careers without sexual threats and intimidation.
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, and it was made illegal by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law protects all workers against sexual harassment.
An overwhelming majority of employees who experience sexual harassment do not voice their experiences because they are afraid of the repercussions. As a result, they deny or minimize the seriousness of the harassment. Your HR department can play a significant role in addressing sexual harassment and encouraging employees to come forward.
You should only hire HR professionals and top leaders who are committed to reducing sexual harassment in the office. Members of your management staff should not ignore an employee’s complaint, nor should they give a wink or thumbs up to alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be more than just offering favors or job promotions in exchange for sexual acts. Sexual harassment can happen in other ways, such as:
- Unwanted flirtation or sexual advances in the office
- Displaying photos or emails with sexual content
- Pressuring a person to go on a date after being turned down
- Inappropriately touching a person around the waist, back, buttocks or other intimate areas of the body
- Making sexual comments or jokes
- Playing music with sexual connotations or references
It is imperative that companies have a solid sexual harassment policy in place that is current and enforced. By law, companies are required to have a policy in place to prevent and deal with a harassment complaint.
If you can show that your company has taken measures to prevent and address harassment, you may not be held liable for your employee’s inappropriate actions. An employment law attorney can help you if such claims are brought against your company.
A sexual harassment policy should be created in a way that allows employees to know their rights. The policy should outline the steps to reporting sexual harassment activities and make employees feel comfortable in disclosing those concerns to the proper authorities in the company.
The policy should be fluid and adaptable to meet the needs of the changing work environment, which often include the internet, social media, and other mobile devices in the workplace. These new technologies can sometimes foster sexual harassment activity in the office.
An effective policy should emphasize a quick response to any sexual harassment claim and reinforce your zero tolerance for it. Ask your employment law attorney to help you develop a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that will protect your employees and you from legal woes if a sexual harassment incident occurs.
(image courtesy of Joshua Ness)