There has been a recent influx of high profile sexual harassment cases in the past several months. Although companies have been shouting from the rooftops that they have a zero-tolerance policy in place, what exactly does that mean?
Does it really protect businesses from a lawsuit if the policy isn’t effective? Although a zero-policy announcement may sound good on paper, is it really enough to keep employees safe?
What Is Sexual Harassment?
It seems like the definition of sexual harassment would be common sense. Unfortunately, there are many who claim they weren’t aware that their actions fell under that category.
It may sound elementary, but it’s important for companies to define sexual harassment to their employees.
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
However, it should be known that sexual harassment can be both physical and psychological. Employees are also not allowed to harass another employee even if the incidents don’t take place on the employer premises.
Policies To Help Prevent And Address Sexual Harassment
Your company needs to have policies in place to address sexual harassment. More than ever, this is the time to take a look at your employee handbook and make sure it covers some of these basics:
- sexual harassment policy
- general harassment policy
- policy about how sexual harassment investigations are conducted in your company
All employees should be trained on how to handle sexual harassment, where they need to go to report it, and what steps will be implemented to make sure it’s resolved.
HR’s Role In Sexual Harassment
In some cases of sexual harassment, the employee being harassed never comes forward to report the abuse. Reasons can include shame, fear of losing their job, or destroying their reputation wihin the industry.
It’s important that, as a company, employees feel safe. A policy should be in place where employees trust that action will be taken when they report abuse. Long gone are the days when bad behavior gets a pass because of the position or job ranking of the accused. Each reported claim must be taken seriously with appropriate action taken to resolve the issue.
There are some steps HR can take to help create a safe environment for a zero-tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace.
It’s HR’s job to treat all reports, concerns, and investigations with confidentiality, although the name of the complainant is usually revealed to the person they are making the claims about. During this process however, it’s important that the complainant doesn’t suffer any kind of retaliation and the details of the case are kept as confidential as possible.
Take Proper Action
The media has reported cases where incidents of sexual harassment have been reported to HR or other higher officials and there was never any action taken. Follow your own guidelines. Make sure that every complaint is taken seriously and the proper steps to resolve the issue are followed.
- Notifying the police if criminal activities are alleged.
- Arranging for an investigation of the alleged harassment and the preparation of a written report.
- Submitting a written report summarizing the results of the investigation and making recommendations to designated company officials.
- Notifying the complainant and the respondent of the corrective actions to be taken, if any, and administering those actions.
Cultural Change Will Help Improve Policy Change
Having a zero-tolerance policy in place is a great start. It’s in the best interest of every company to fully ensure their own safety and protection, as well as the same of their employees and their well-being. However, as a culture, there is more to be done.
Take a look at your company culture as a whole. What kind of working environment do you condone? What sort of leadership skills are carried throughout your company and how does that trickle down the system?
Make sure your company enforces its sexual harassment policies at all times and not just when there is a crisis.