4 Reasons to Talk about Sexual Harassment at Work

In this day and age, you would think that sexual harassment at work wouldn’t be such a common occurrence, but it is. There are around 15,000 sexual harassment cases brought to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) each year.  In fact, in a poll done by Louis Harris and Associates,almost a third of all female workers polled claimed to have been harassed at work.

So it’s important to take harassment in the workplace seriously – for the safety of your employees, as well as for the overall health of the company.

Let’s take a look at how you can do that.

Dollarphotoclub_84437795-857029-editedFirst – you need to understand what it is

When you know what it is, then can confidently write your company policies, and assist in training your team.

There are two main types… the first is Quid Pro Quo.  This is the most common one that everyone talks about and hears about.  This is your typical scenario where a supervisor uses his (or her!) position in the company as leverage to extort sexual favors out of a subordinate employee with the promise of continued employment or other perks.

Quid Pro Quo is pretty easy to understand, and has a clear “right and wrong” that most people grasp with very little trouble.

The real hard one that catches most people is hostile environment. This can include risky jokes, cartoons, pictures, websites, comments, and even overheard conversations that the victim didn’t directly participate in.

Hostile environment is determined using “eye of the beholder.”  Which essentially means that if the victim perceives an action as sexual harassment, then it is.  This can really get complicated when the victim actually participates in some of the harassment.  They may make jokes, or laugh at cartoons, but this doesn’t give an offender the right to grab them, or cross a line into things that make the person uncomfortable.

See how that can get tricky!

Second – you must have a harassment policy in your employee handbook

This policy should:

  • clearly define what harassment is

  • outline the policy for how to report it

  • and explain what the consequences are

Finally – talk about it!

I can’t stress this enough!  Most companies will hand an employee their handbook, give them time to mull it over, or just let them have a copy to take with them, and then have the employee sign a paper saying they received it.

Then they might do an annual training event with their managers and supervisors once a year to refresh their training, but they won’t do a general training with their entire staff.

So the easiest and most direct way to address this knowledge gap is when the employee is initially hired.

  • Take the time to go over the harassment policy in your handbook with them.

  • Make sure you provide specific examples of harassment and what is unacceptable

  • Guide them on what your reporting policies are if they see or fall victim to harassment

  • Ensure that they understand what the consequences of committing harassment are

This fairly simple conversation when you’re bringing on a new hire can make a big impact on the number of incidents that will occur and help prevent larger situations from happening.

Keep on training!

A new employee is under a lot of pressure when they first come on, and they are trying to remember a lot.  Then, after time, they become comfortable with their coworkers, and they fall into a groove doing their job each day.

After a while, they can fall into a pattern of behavior that can lead to a harassment claim.  So make sure you’re taking the time to talk about sexual harassment with your employees regularly, and retrain them on harassment regularly.  This can make a big difference!

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