Employer Best Practices: Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not something that can be ignored and doesn’t disappear on its own. The most effective weapon against any offense is prevention, and this burden rests on the shoulders of employers. In the U.S., employers are legally responsible to create and provide a work environment where employees are not discriminated against and is free from harassment. Therefore, a business owner is required by law to take the necessary steps to prevent and deal with harassment in any form. If not, there is a chance that the employer can be held liable—and being unaware is not a defense.

Implementing the Right Policies and Practices

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment. Moreover, it can take many forms and both men and women can be made victims. It can be verbal, written, or physical interaction, as well as direct or indirect (i.e., innuendo and suggestive language).

Having a written anti-harassment policy is a good place to start in the prevention of sexual harassment. This policy should explain the following to the employees of a company:

  • What harassment is
  • State that harassment will not be tolerated under any circumstance
  • Outline how the employer and employee should respond to harassment if it occurs
  • Explain how to file a complaint

The policy doesn’t mean that there will be no harassment complaints filed; however, when this policy is coupled with anti-harassment training for staff members, the possibility of harassment could be minimized. Moreover, it could also help encourage a staff member to come forward, allowing the problem to be addressed quickly and effectively. In the United States, courts have held that employers who respond to complaints in efficient ways, take steps to remedy the issue, and prevent it from occurring in the future will not be held liable to the same extent, if at all, when compared to an employer who fails to take this approach.

Consider these Preventative Strategies

  • Develop an anti-harassment policy alongside employees, managers, attorneys, and union representatives (if applicable).
  • Circulate information and policies amongst staff members regularly and promote open communication. When the taboo of silence that usually surrounds sexual harassment is removed, a more open and solutions-oriented workplace can be created.
  • Ensure all managers and supervisors understand their responsibilities in creating a harassment-free workplace—and that employees know policies and procedures if it happens to them.
  • Promptly investigate and deal with any complaint.
  • Appropriately discipline employees who harass others and protect and support the employees who feel they are being made a victim.
  • Take action to eliminate jokes, posters, emails, photos, and other verbal, written, and visual content that could be considered discriminatory from the workplace.
  • Monitor and update policies, procedures, and training exercises as much as necessary to ensure ongoing effectiveness.

Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and secure workplace. Preventing harassment is not only good for employees, but it’s also good for the long-term prospects and viability of the business.

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