New York Governor Cuomo’s resignation showed us how charges of sexual harassment can bring down one of the most powerful politicians in the United States. If that’s so, imagine what similar charges could do to you and your company.
This makes it imperative that you have the proper policies and systems in place to not only handle sexual harassment allegations but create a safe and productive company culture.
This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens with thoughtful planning and the eight strategies outlined here.
In the wake of New York Governor Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment charges and the ongoing #metoo movement, there’s a new tension in the workplace. Flirtatious and over-friendly actions at work can now generate accusations of improper behavior.
Business owners should be holding staff training sessions to help employees understand what kinds of behavior can constitute harassment. They should also set up grievance procedures in the company. This will ensure internal handling of any issues that arise.
Sexual harassment complaints are a serious issue. As a business owner, you should worry about harassment in your workplace because of potential legal liability as well as damaging publicity.
Fortunately, there are ways you can avoid sexual harassment complaints in your company. By adopting and implementing the eight critical strategies detailed here, you can run your company without sexual harassment and make your employees feel safe in your workplace.
- Create a Sexual Harassment Policy
To avoid sexual harassment in your business, the first step is to create a sexual harassment policy. In this policy, you should provide the sexual harassment definition and specify what types of sexual harassment there are.
Once you’ve provided what constitutes sexual harassment, you should make it clear that, when it occurs, it should be reported directly to top management.
The policy should also specify all sexual harassment claims will be completely and thoroughly investigated.
There should also be language that explains the investigative process and outcome. Typically, it explains that once the claim has been investigated, the investigation’s conclusion and disciplinary actions acted upon must be documented.
This includes implied claims as well as direct ones. Keep in mind that many claims are implied, not direct. Just because your employee declines to make a direct claim, it will not reduce your liability.
- Communicate Your Policy and Provide Sexual Harassment Training
Once you’ve created your sexual harassment policy, it is essential that you clearly communicate it to your entire staff. Moreover, all company employees should receive sexual harassment training. Remember “all” includes senior managers and owners!
Make attendance mandatory for the training and document who has taken the training and when.
A keystone of your training must include information about the different sexual harassment types. Many employees don’t have a good grasp on what is considered “sexual harassment,” so calling out improper behavior is essential. Sexual harassment actions can include:
- Patting or grabbing,
- Offensive words regarding clothing,
- Unwelcome comments,
- Unwanted gestures or jokes,
- Unwanted flirting,
- Repeated date requests despite being turned down consistently,
- Sending forms of communication with sexually explicit images or text,
- Displaying posters, pictures, or sexually suggestive objects can also count as sexual harassment, and
- Playing sexually suggestive music.
We strongly recommend you consult with qualified legal counsel to be sure that you have covered all areas of liability sufficiently and stay current with the evolving nature of what is considered harassment.
Once you’ve reviewed the sexual harassment examples, you should also provide a review of the entire policy with special emphasis on the reporting system.
Additionally, training should teach all leadership members how to identify concerns and how to address them if concerns are brought to them by an employee.[quotes]This training should occur for all new employees.[/quotes] It should also occur regularly as a refresher and after any incidents have occurred. Make attendance mandatory for the training and document it.
- Be Clear about Reporting Procedures
You need to put a reporting procedure in place which makes your staff feel comfortable when reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. It should be a process where it’s possible to report anonymously and make it easy to meet confidentially with superiors.
Additionally, you should be clear about what occurs during the reporting process. Who do employees have to contact about the issue? What information do you expect them to provide?
You should also think about what types of disciplinary actions will be taken.
These may vary on a case-by-case basis. However, there should be general overarching punishments. These punishments should be appropriate for the type of sexual harassment that has occurred.
Reassure your employees that their job or workplace reputation won’t be negatively impacted by them doing the reporting.
There should also be a process in place for redressing any negative repercussions should they do occur.
For example, if an employee is bullied after reporting sexual harassment, you should provide a process for how to deal with the situation. That way, employees will be less likely to bully or isolate the person who has reported the sexual harassment.
These steps will make your employees more engaged because they will feel more comfortable reporting sexual harassment knowing that you’re there to support them.
- Raise Awareness
In addition to providing your staff with sexual harassment training, you should regularly find opportunities to raise awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment. There are many gray areas that people might not realize are sexual harassment.
Provide your staff with examples of these in communications with your staff and workshops.
- Create a Code of Conduct
One of the biggest issues in sexual harassment complaints concerns the larger company culture.
Banter that has a sexual nature is never appropriate in the workplace, and yet it can easily occur even when there is a sexual harassment policy in place.
Many business leaders want to avoid sexual harassment because of legal concerns, but this isn’t enough, as they are focusing on preventing illegal behavior instead of creating a workplace with good behavior generally.
It is far wiser to take a broader view and discuss not only the behavior you want to avoid but also the behavior that you want to encourage.
This is where creating a Code of Conduct can be helpful. With this solution, you define what an appropriate workplace culture looks like.
This makes it possible to prohibit transgressions that might not technically be serious enough to meet the definition of sexual harassment but that could still harm your company culture.
Coupled with your sexual harassment policy, this can be an effective way to address a larger number of interactions and improve your workplace culture overall.
- Be Overly Aware of Minor or Underreported Sexual Harassment
Because perception is a large element when it comes to sexual harassment or inappropriate banter, someone perceiving someone’s words or actions as sexual harassment defines it as such. This is even the case if they’ve actively taken part in the banter.
When employees have experienced sexual harassment, it’s common that they don’t report it.
Instead, they might make subtle comments about the behaviors that made them uncomfortable or hint at them.
They might also speak to other employees, trying to understand what they experienced, exactly. If they do report sexual harassment, they might ask their manager to keep the report confidential.
The people affected by these issues often don’t want to cause problems.
Even in a case where the situation is unclear or underreported, or if it’s a minor sexual harassment situation, you need to take the sexual harassment seriously.
Investigate as you would with a more formal or serious sexual harassment complaint and discipline the person who has created the sexual harassment problem.
No matter how subtle the complaint, you need to take seriously the incident and any other incidents leading up to it.
- Incorporate Your Sexual Harassment Policy into Appraisals and Review Meetings
When you have appraisals or review meetings, they are more than simply a chance to review how employees are doing at their job. They are also an opportunity to speak about your sexual harassment policy.
You can remind employees about these issues and provide a refresher of the sexual harassment policy you covered in earlier training.
By bringing up this topic, you’ll be creating an opportunity for your employee to voice concern about a sexual harassment issue or make a report if needed.
To ensure that they’re comfortable doing this, begin your meeting by saying that any issues of this type will follow all the confidentiality parameters you have in place. It is essential that this meeting is in a private place so employees feel comfortable saying what they need to without others nearby.
- Have a Clear Zero-Tolerance Policy Regarding Sexual Harassment Complaints
Finally, you should have a clear zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment. Make it clear that anyone who engages in this behavior will have to face the consequences – whatever the stature the employee might have in your company.
Need More Information?
Now that you’ve learned about the ways you can avoid sexual harassment complaints in your company, you might need more information. Maybe you want help putting together a sexual harassment policy or ideas for disciplinary actions to take. We stress that you should always consult with your attorney and seek experienced help in developing your sexual harassment policy and process.
As certified coaches and trainers, we are experts at boosting overall company performance as well as improving the communications and professionalism of your company’s leaders to help head off sexual harassment complaints.
We also provide business coaching, training, and sales team development services. To learn more about how we can help you with our business coaching services, check out our website or get in touch. Let's set up a time to talk.