Each year, thousands of people file sexual harassment complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
If you employ a sexual harasser, you’re risking disasters on five fronts – legal, financial, workplace morale, and public relations including on social media.
The EEOC says only 6 to 13 percent of people who are victimized by harassment actually file a complaint. But don’t be complacent. The risks of allowing harassment in your organization can be quite damaging, and it hinders a culture of respect in your workplace.
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is applicable to employers with 15 or more employees in both the private and public sectors.
The EEOC definition of sexual harassment
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
You can take immediate steps to make sure your sexual-harassment program is a success:
- Innovate your training process. The fact is that many supervisors and workers yawn at the thought of implementing sexual-harassing training.Make certain you personally demonstrate your concern about sexual harassment. Upgrade your communication including your employee handbook. (See Best Employee-Handbook Values to Avoid Legal Issues.) Instead of showing mundane videos to your workers, implement face-to-face role playing in training classes.
- Make available several ways for employees to voice complaints. For example, workers harassed by their supervisors will not file a complain if your policy requires victims to talk with their bosses.So create avenues for reporting – accusations could be reported to the human resources department, a third-party hotline, and a senior manager.
- Make sure all senior managers lead initiatives on preventing and dealing with sexual harassment. Regulators and courts will always target the response behavior of senior management. Not only will the organization will be penalized, executives will personally pay a legal price in terms of accountability.
- If you get a sexual-harassment complaint, get outside legal help. The EEOC and courts will expect you to get help from an outside participant, usually a law firm. You need to properly investigate complaints. You also need advice on how to conduct an investigation and take corrective actions.
From EEOC’s site, here are comprehensive harassment policy tips for small business:
- State that harassment based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or genetic information (including family medical history) is illegal and will not be tolerated. Provide definitions and examples of prohibited conduct, as needed.*
- Explain how employees can report harassment.
- If possible, designate at least one person outside an employee’s chain of command who can receive harassment complaints.
- Consider permitting employees to report harassment to any manager.
- State that you will protect the confidentiality of employees who report harassment or participate in a harassment investigation, to the greatest possible extent.
- State that employees will not be punished for reporting harassment or participating in a harassment investigation or lawsuit.
- Require managers and other employees with human resources responsibilities to respond appropriately to harassment or to report it to individuals who are authorized to respond.
- Provide for prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of harassment complaints.
- Provide for prompt and effective corrective and preventative action when necessary.
- Consider requiring that employees who file internal complaints be notified about the status of their complaint, the results of the investigation and any corrective and preventative action taken.
- Describe the consequences of violating the harassment policy.
* Federal, state and local laws may prohibit additional types of harassment. Federal, state and local government websites may have additional information about these laws.
From the Coach’s Corner, here are relevant HR tips:
Legal HR Issues? Best Practices in Workplace Investigations – As an employer, one of your biggest nightmares can be issues involving your employees. There can be many reasons to conduct an investigation. “Action expresses priorities,” said Mohandas Gandhi. So you should act quickly.
16 Best Practices to Stay out of Legal Trouble with Employees – Generally, in human resources, companies find themselves in legal hot water because they inadvertently make mistakes with their employees. It’s important to triple down on preventative measures and responses to legal hazards when necessary.
Management: Coach Your Employees to Better Performance – In talent management, coaching, counseling and giving feedback is of utmost importance. But it’s a difficult challenge if you don’t have a coaching culture.
Basics to Consider Before Writing Nondisclosure Agreements – If you have business secrets to protect you might want to use a confidentiality policy, a nondisclosure agreement and possibly a noncompete agreement. Here are the pros and cons.
Employees – Overtime Pay Issues and FLSA Exempt Status – Many employers continue to violate wage and hour rules. To avoid costly and time-consuming legal hassles, you might want to review your overtime pay policy and all your exempt-employees’ status to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it.”