Sexual harassment in the workplace is a real issue that many employers face, and it’s more common than you might think.
That’s why taking preventive measures to help lower the risk of sexual harassment among employees is crucial. Knowing the proper steps to take if harassment does occur is key to providing employees with a safe working environment and peace of mind.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) describes sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently persistent or offensive to unreasonably interfere with an employee’s job performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.” Sexual harassment can include sexual pranks, innuendos, jokes, teasing, touching or groping, as well as sexual verbal abuse, repeated requests for off-duty socialization (or dates), giving sexually-suggestive gifts, posting sexually-offensive pictures or off-duty unwelcome sexual conduct. Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Prevalence of Sexual Harassment at Work
Sexual harassment in the workplace may be more common than many business owners realize. It is a real problem facing many American women and men. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says one in four U.S. working women have experienced sexual harassment at work. So while it might not always be reported, harassment appears to be a common problem among the U.S. workforce.
Taking a few precautionary measures can help lower the chance of sexual harassment happening within your company. To start, it’s important to have an anti-sexual harassment policy in place and recruit employees and managers to help you create and enforce the policy.
You should familiarize all employees with anti-harassment policies, and make it known there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Conduct regular employee education seminars about sexual harassment and make these seminars a requirement for all new employees. Finally, interact with employees and managers regularly to get a good handle on what’s happening within the workplace.
Taking Action Against Harassment
Encourage employees to speak up if they encounter sexual harassment in the workplace. They should keep a written record of any incidents and report harassment to the human resources (HR) department as soon as possible.
The HR department is responsible for making both parties (the harasser and victim) aware of the seriousness of sexual harassment complaints, SHRM explains. The HR director should explain the harassment policy and investigation procedures to both parties, arrange for an investigation, attempt resolution for minor complaints, notify the police department if criminal harassment is alleged, submit a written report and notify both parties of a resolution or prompt corrective action.
The severity of the sexual harassment complaint and evidence against the alleged offender should determine the next steps to take. Use your best judgment to determine if employees should be terminated in order to keep the workplace environment safe and non-intimidating for current and future employees. As a business owner, keeping employees safe and worry-free at work is a top priority.