Regrettably, sexual harassment is so common at workplaces. Although it affects both genders, women are the most affected. Statistics showing 81% of women have experienced this abuse at some point in their lives, with three-quarters of the cases happening in workplaces. Also, a staggering 72% of workplace sexual harassment cases go unreported. These figures are frightening, and that’s why managers have to be proactive and create a comfortable environment free of abuse and harassment. How exactly can they do that?
The first step is raising awareness of what sexual harassment is to make sure everyone understands the boundaries. This means training both junior and senior staff. The law mandates companies to conduct regular sexual harassment training. For instance, in California, all companies with more than 50 employees are required to conduct at least 2 hours of training every 2 years. This exercise is supposed to cover several subjects.
First, you need to make it clear what actions are regarded as harassment. Let them know that sexual harassment doesn’t manifest in physical touch only. Inappropriate compliments, constant date requests that keep on getting turned down, displaying sexual objects in the workspace, and playing sexual songs are a few examples of commonly reported issues.
The managers should also know that trading favors for dates or sex (Quid Pro Quo) are a serious type of harassment.
In addition to training your employees, you also want to create separate training sessions for managers. Supervisors and managers play a vital role in dealing with sexual abuse allegations at workplaces. They are the first line of help when an employee has a complaint. Therefore, it’s important to teach them how they are supposed to address any complaints lodged.
Sexual harassment policy is a must-have for your company. This policy should be as clear as possible, eliminating any grey areas that may make it difficult to create a comfortable working environment for all genders.
The policy handbook should contain a list of all the actions that are considered inappropriate. Even more important, it should provide a simple procedure on how to file a complaint.
There should also be flexibility on who can receive the complaints. For instance, in addition to asking your employees to report to their immediate supervisor, you should also provide the option to contact someone else at a higher position directly. That’s critical because the unfortunate truth is that some perpetrators are usually in managerial positions.
The policy should also promise the employees that all harassment cases are treated with seriousness regardless of the people involved. This makes it easier for junior employees and interns to communicate their complaints against individuals in senior positions.
You could conduct training exercises and have the most strict policy in place, but if you don’t deal with complaints swiftly, then it’s all for nothing. Allegations need to be addressed as soon as they are made. The complainant should know the steps that are being taken to investigate and deal with the problem. And when the perpetrator is found guilty, take effective action as soon as possible.
Swiftness in dealing with allegations is beneficial in several. First, it’ll make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for harassment, ensuring that all employees do not cross the set boundaries.
Second, it’ll encourage victims to speak up. The last thing your company wants is several employees suffering in silence or being forced to take the next steps with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other organizations because you don’t have a functional system in place.
It’s crucial to assure your employees that there will be zero retaliation regardless of the outcome of your investigations. It is possible that there won’t be sufficient evidence to confirm a specific allegation. In such cases, the employee who filed the complaint should not be treated differently from the rest.
Don’t just sit in your office and wait for complaints to come in. Encourage your supervisors and managers to monitor the floor and note any inappropriate behavior. The presence of senior employees in the workspace encourages positive behavior.
Additionally, an available authority figure is more approachable. Your employees will feel comfortable and confident approaching them with their complaints.
Organizations are directly responsible for creating a safe and comfortable working environment for everyone. It starts by understanding that anyone can be the victim or perpetrator and creating a policy that is crystal clear and guarantees decisive action. This will create a productive environment and culture that is safe for the employees and beneficial to you and your goals.