5 Moves to stop sexual harassment at work

Cases of sexual harassment in the workplace are rampant, with a recent poll commissioned by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showing that 48% of presently employed women report having been subjected to unwelcome sexual advance in the workplace in the United States. Currently employed women in the US said they have personally experienced an unwelcome sexual advance in a form of verbal or physical harassment at work. Over the past two decades, workers have objected to being victims of unsolicited sexual innuendos, moreover, the problem still persists.

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So, what is harassment in the workplace? To understand what comprises it, we need to understand such harassment as unwelcome, unwanted and unsolicited behavior that is sexual in its nature. Such sexual pressure may be over action, or in the form of unwelcome sexual conversations.

It doesn’t only affect the individuals involved, but also affects the work environment. Such an atmosphere negatively affects the employees’ morale, making them less productive. Nevertheless, there’s the legal aspect of the workers suing employer for harassment. Other than the obvious legal costs, other costs linked to sexual harassment include employee turnover, absenteeism, low productivity, and low morale.

Given these costs, each employer, the organization size notwithstanding, must implement reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment from the work environment. This implies implementing precautionary steps to lower the likelihood of such acts as well as responding swiftly and commensurately in the event that such harassment occurs. This article outlines some important steps that an organization can take to prevent the incidences of sexual harassment at their companies. From the article, you will also get an idea of what to do if you are being sexually harassed at work.

Get management commitment to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

Let us be clear from the beginning. It is the harasser who is the problem, and no excuse can be given for such behavior. One way of ensuring that undertakings to prevent sexual harassment are to enlist the support of the high-ranking executives. Top management support is critical if a comprehensive strategy is developed to address sexual abuse.

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Develop, write and adopt a clear and comprehensive company sexual harassment policy

A crucial aspect of successfully preventing workplace sexual harassment is by developing and promoting a written policy that clearly articulates that sexual harassment is not allowed under any circumstances and if such behavior would be noticed, a lawsuit will be waiting for the abuser. Different employers approach the issue of sexual harassment in different ways with some choosing to cover information on sexual harassment into general workplace harassment policy, which entails all forms of unlawful victimization, including those based on disability, race, sexual orientation and age discrimination. In situations where sexual harassment cases are rampant, employers may prefer to have a standalone policy on sexual harassment. Both these options can work, and it is up to the individual organization to choose one that suits them. In case you opt for the general option, you should remember to define and comprehensively address the different types of harassment. Please note that policies that are too broad or generic tend to have a compromised impact and clarity.

When writing the policy, remember to include information on consensual coworker sex and relationships. A good policy will include information on what is prohibited, including sexual innuendos, and offensive remarks. Please note that sexual harassment also includes women harassing men, although these tend to go unreported. The policy document should also include information on how employees ought to report cases of sexual harassment. Ask employees to read the policy document and sign that they have read and understood the contents. In addition:

  • Involve staff and relevant unions in drafting the policy document
  • Regularly promote and distribute the policy document through all levels of the organization
  • Offer the document to new employees as part of their induction
  • Ensure that the policy document is accessible to those with disability 

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When implementing a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment, encourage employees to report sexual harassment, even if those implicated are top management. All employee should be confident that they can report boss harassment without fear of reprisal. 

Offer regular sexual harassment training for employees and management

Setting up training programs to educate staff on what is acceptable and what acts are inappropriate in the work environment, and what an employee should do in certain situations. During the training, provide examples of sexual harassment in the workplace. Have practical scenarios where employees are taught what to do if you are being sexually harassed at work.

It is also important to organize sexual harassment training for managers and supervisors to help them understand how to detect and eliminate sexual abuse. During such training, offer information on what workers ought to do if they witness or are subjected to offensive sexual advance. Such training should be held regularly. In fact, in case of a sexual harassment lawsuit, investigators will ask for your training schedule and sexual harassment policy. Up-to-date records on your training will work on your defense.

Create a positive workplace environment that encourages reporting sexual harassment

A culture that does not condone sexual harassment is key to preventing such cases. The first important step in creating a positive workplace environment is by clearly communicating to managers and supervisors that they must enforce the organization’s policy against sexual pressure. All leaders must be aware that they are required to immediately report any sexual harassment cases brought to their attention.

As part of creating a positive environment, it is important to remove any sexually explicit, pornographic, or offensive material, literature, or posters from the work environment. Create a policy that prohibits inappropriate se of computer technology, such as the internet, email, and screensavers.

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Encourage appropriate conduct by managers and walk the walk on harassment in the workplace

Ending sexual harassment in the organization may require a cultural shift within the company. You need to act tough on cases of unwanted sexual advances. Employees should know that sexual harassment carries dire consequences, whether the perpetrator is a male or female coworker. Inappropriate actions are a risk not only to the individuals but also to the company. Offer different options for reporting sexual harassment, in the event that an employee does not feel comfortable reporting directly to a supervisor. In addition, put in place accountability measures for managers and supervisors.

Approach all cases or sexual harassment seriously, with prompt actions. Make sure to document all your efforts, regardless of the position of the perpetrator. Try to maintain confidentiality as much as possible, although you should inform all parties that the information may be shared for a full investigation. 

To summarize, sexual harassment in the work environment can have serious costs for the individual as well as the company. Use these five strategies to prevent sexual harassment in your organization.

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