How to Handle Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Chief of Minds | Dec 5, 2017While a sexual harassment claim can become a nightmare full of significant emotional, physical and economic harm for both the employer and the employee, the employer carries the greater opportunity to lighten the damages of its outcome by avoiding some of the most common mistakes early on. Look back at the high-profile cases that sparked the #MeToo movement and take note of the publicly exposed mistakes employers have made when handling sexual harassment and be earnest about not falling into the same black hole.
Sexual harassment mistakes can quickly lead to a high legal and financial cost for the business, as well as harm the company’s reputation and overall productivity. In order to keep this crime from happening or escalating in your office, here are four ways for employers to avoid mistakes when handling sexual harassment in the workplace.
Have a Visible and Clear PolicyReading through to the end of a sexual harassment policy is not likely achievable for most employees, because these documents are generally dense and overly complicated. Therefore, having a policy in place is only one piece of the puzzle. The information is useless if no one understands it. Employers must learn to visibly showcase posters or another form of signage for displaying a clear, easy-to-understand stance on sexual harassment, the consequences and the process and expectations for filing complaints.
Don’t Underreact or Overreact to ComplaintsIt is essential to move forward aggressively when a complaint is raised or witnessed by an employee. Too often supervisors underreact and neglect sexual harassment grievances. Refusing to act fast and communicate with those involved only creates scope for fear. Never respond with a statement like, “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by that.”
Take every complaint seriously—at all levels of leadership. As soon as a complaint is filed, the supervisor who received it should partner with Human Resources and begin the investigation process. There should always be a plan for investigating complaints thoroughly and quickly.
Firing an employee before conducting an investigation can turn into a disaster. The correct response should be to follow proper protocol for disciplining a disrespectful employee meaning the employer should conduct a thorough investigation and follow company policy. Immediately firing someone without supportive facts of the incident is unjust and can cause unnecessary damages for the employer and employee accused.
It is not smart to launch an investigation or to take disciplinary action without talking with Human Resources, legal counsel, or upper management.
Conduct Training for Your EmployeesMany companies fail to conduct or attend regular training sessions for their supervisors and employees. We have noticed in the past that most employers conduct or hire a training consultant after a sexual harassment incident has already occurred.
Under a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, be adamant about separately focusing on the training of your employees and leadership. To minimize risks, costs and damages, ensure your team has regular training.
Below are some tips for implementing sexual harassment training in your workplace:
1. Make training relatable to everyday lifeUsing scare tactics, extreme scenarios and outdated videos won’t get the job done properly. Your best approach in training is to present the information in ways that will resonate with employees and directly correlate with your company values and your employees’ and supervisors’ actual jobs. Incorporate character-driven situations and the benefits of having a respectful work environment.
2. Clarify that the training should be taken seriouslyBe careful with too much humor. The training is meant for more than informing and sensitizing employees and supervisors; it’s held to help them keep their jobs. When speaking to the supervisors, make it clear that courts hold them to a higher standard than their employees.
3. Define what’s unacceptable vs. illegalOf course, employers can have their own opinions of what’s unacceptable in their office, but employees shouldn’t think a specific behavior is unlawful when it’s not. It’s also important not to imply that unacceptable behavior is okay simply because it is not violating the law.
4. Focus on behaviorInstead of presenting a list of rules that shouldn’t be broken, concentrate on showing what behavior is appropriate. Encourage respectful and suitable behavior, and use your training to express the values and mission your company stands for.
5. Evaluate and re-evaluateBe open to conducting a survey to get feedback on what resonated with your employees and supervisors and what they want to learn more about. Remember this is a training that should occur regularly, so you’ll always have the flexibility to improve the next one.
6. Cover what’s included in reporting harassmentHaving a separate training for your office employees and supervisors is important for being most effective. During employee training, you’ll be able to focus on the things that are included in reporting harassment such as who to contact, alternative contacts if the point of contact is unavailable, or involved in the harassment.
7. Make training an ongoing and interactive experienceTraining must include periodic education, follow-up awareness and ongoing communication to be most effective. If you plan to simply hand out updated policy manuals, you can’t expect your team to be up to par, fully protected or ready for whatever happens.'
8. Provide supervisors with guidance on how to respond in the moment.Again, this separate training is key to being effective. During a supervisor training, you can focus on teaching supervisors the best techniques for responding in the moment of harassment or a complaint. There are certain things that are unwise to say, such as “That doesn’t sound like something Mr. John Doe would do.” It’s best for supervisors to keep it simple and respond with serious attentiveness.
If you don't have a sexual harassment policy in place, lack training, or are looking to have an HR expert take the lead on all complaints, hire our team. In order to create a successful, thriving business, we must first work together to build a harassment-free environment.
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