Workplace sexual harassment is a matter which deserves laser focus. A spotlight was placed on this very issue in 2017, in the form of the Me Too movement that overtook the news and social media in the United States. Since then, the number of employees who report feeling unsafe and or violated by the actions of other employees or bosses has begun rising. When this environment changes from the one which is centred on professionalism and respect to space where unwanted liberties are freely taken, a slippery slope arises.

What Exactly Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

The US State Department makes very clear in the Sexual Harassment Policy that it can be summed up as the undesirable advances of a sexual nature both in word and or action made by one employee against another. Based on the submission to or blocking of these advances, the victim may suffer a negative employment decision. Secondarily, the workspace can be transformed into a contentious area that fosters anxiety, fear, and stress and hinders productivity. 

The government warns that any such action is against the law and further cautions that certain actions regarded as playful or fun should be avoided. Pranks of a sexual nature, touching or grabbing which could be construed as inappropriate, and even standing too close may be accepted as grounds for sexual harassment claims. Fast and decisive action will be taken by the State Department should any such allegation be proven. 

Prevention Is Key So Hire And Train Effectively

As an employer, it is your duty to maintain the safety of the persons who are employed in your business. Physical safety, psychological and emotional safety included. Strive to implement a rigorous hiring strategy. Evaluate ethical and moral levels of every potential worker in addition to the heavily focused upon educational qualifications. Assess levels of respect and consideration for others. These are prime indicators of the likelihood of sexual harassment suits. 

To further strengthen your bid to circumvent any harassment occurring in the workplace, properly train your employees. Different states have adopted varying stances on training. Some have left it totally at the discretion of bosses while others have made this action compulsory. As of the recently passed date of January 1st, 2021, CA sexual harassment training requirements have been made mandatory. Supervisory employees must receive during the first six months of taking over this office a two-hour classroom or interactive sexual harassment training session. All non-supervisory workers are also mandated to be trained for at least an hour on the topic. Repeat this once every two years.

EasyLlama covers topics such as unwelcomed behaviours, bystander interaction, hostile work environment, and proper reporting. Training is self-paced and conducted online and is available in over one hundred languages. Safeguard your company from legal action, but also care enough for your employees that you put this matter to the forefront of business undertakings. 

Create a Rigid Sexual Harassment Policy

No employee handbook or guidelines should be lacking this specific policy. In addition, to really drive the point home, create posters or reminders that can be put up around the office, send monthly email refreshers, hold team meetings and workshops where the importance of proper workplace activity and interaction is discussed. Make the session interactive so any questions or doubts can be cleared up.

A zero-tolerance approach needs to be adopted along with a clear policy to ward off misbehaviour. If any case of infringement is brought forward, take speedy action. Undertake immediate investigation to justly prove or disprove allegations. Maintain privacy and confidentiality. For any employee to feel safe bringing forward such a claim to their supervisor, boss, or the human resource department, a conducive climate needs to continually permeate the workspace. Ensure employees know they will be supported in the event anything untoward should be reported. This cannot be achieved solely through words but with action. 

Accused persons should be made aware that no form of retaliation against the accuser will be tolerated. Fearmongering and intimidation intended to silence the victim cannot be allowed to happen. Regulations, least of all termination should be broadcasted from the roof-tops. Failing to take a strong stance against sexual harassment could land your company in hot water with the law. Don’t open yourself up for lawsuits and negative press, do what’s right.

Handle office Romances With Tact

Wherever adults congregate frequently, relationships are sure to form, and some will blossom beyond friendship. As the director, manager, CEO, it is your duty to make clear the position of your business on workplace romances. Some at the helm will place a total ban on such relationships. Others have chosen to make available to their employees legally binding forms of consent. This will inclusively underscore the mutual willingness of the parties to be together, and remove any future possibility of filing sexual harassment claims, hence freeing your company from liability. 

Make it very obvious that no manager and subordinate relationship will be allowed. This can increase the complexity of the situation with supervisors being accused by other employees of favouritism, generating a toxic work environment, whether true or false. Rules on public displays of affection while at work should also be enforced to maintain the air of professionalism. Like any relationship, those formed at work can quickly go downhill, but your company does not need to accompany it there.

Wrap

Filing sexual harassment reports is not a game and should not be done maliciously or as a joke. In as much as managers need to be strict and enforce rules against these behaviours, workers need to respect them. Many jobs are abandoned due to either blatant or obscure sexually tinged interactions. A multitude of lives are negatively impacted, mental health is compromised, economic welfare could be placed in jeopardy. 

And by no means is this only perpetrated against women. Men experience their fair share of harassment. But both equally suffer in silence many times. Make the work atmosphere a supportive one, hire and train employees on up-to-date guidelines, adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward all types of sexual harassment. Protect your staff. Preserve your business.

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