What many employers do not realize is that they can be held liable for any sexual harassment that occurs at their place of business. When one employee sexually harasses another, it is the company’s responsibility to take immediate action to ensure that (1) it never happens again; and (2) appropriate consequences are given to the harasser.
It is true that sexual harassment covers quite a bit of ground, from unwanted sexual advances to sexual innuendos made in the company of other employees, to comments about the sexual orientation of another employee. However, your sexual harassment policy for your employees should cover all of the bases, and demonstrate a zero-tolerance attitude toward sexual harassment.
In order for your sexual harassment policy to adequately inform employees of prohibited actions, it must:
1. Demonstrate a clear desire for a healthy, happy, safe workplace;
2. Define ‘sexual harassment’;
3. Give examples of situations in which sexual harassment could be a problem;
4. Describe the consequences when one person (employee, manager, etc.) sexually harasses another; and
5. Explain the process for reporting sexual harassment.
Typically, a company will only be found liable for sexual harassment if they don’t have a policy against such behavior, and if they take no action against the offender.
Following are a few common rules for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace:
1. Take each complaint seriously.
Never brush off a complaint of sexual harassment from an employee, even if evidence shows that the offense was unlikely.
2. Address sexual harassment from others besides employees.
Sexual harassment does not have to constitute harassment between employees of your company. The harassment could also come from a vendor, a customer, a consultant or a delivery person, so have a policy regarding those instances as well.
3. Include your sexual harassment policy in your employee handbook.
A sexual harassment policy is ineffective if it isn’t made available to your employees. Post it around the office or workplace, in the employee handbook, and address it during meetings or seminars.
4. Investigate quickly.
When you receive a complaint of sexual harassment, deal with the situation immediately. Take the appropriate steps to investigate the matter, then issue consequences where they are warranted.
5. Prevent the possibility of sexual harassment whenever possible.
Another section of your sexual harassment policy should include measures that are required to prevent sexual harassment, such as:
a. Leaving the door open during meetings between fewer than three individuals;
b. Requiring that male/female partners be accompanied by a third party;
c. Making it company policy that intra-office dating not be acceptable;
d. Advising employees to voice concerns when they do not feel comfortable with another individual.