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7 Steps To Prevent Sexual Harassment In The Workplace“Summer lovin’, had me a blast
Summer lovin’, happened so fast
Met a girl crazy for me
Met a boy cute as can be
Summer days drifting away
To, uh oh, those summer nights”
(Name that classic movie!)

Ahh… summertime. This is the time of year when the temperature goes up and inhibitions go down. When we are talking about taking on a new hobby or meeting someone new, loosing inhibitions may be a great thing. However, apply this same idea to the workplace and you could be asking for trouble. This is particularly true in regards to sexual harassment.

Did you know that 40-70% of women and 10-20% of men experience sexual harassment at work?

Whether your employees are doing the day-to-day thing at the office or are gathered at a summertime company party, they should be well informed of the business’s sexual harassment policy and where to draw the line with their behavior. Here, we will offer some guidance on how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Step 1: Create A Strong Sexual Harassment Policy

Hopefully, you’ve already outlined the company’s sexual harassment policy in your employee handbook , where your employees have easy access to its contents. (You could also post the policy in location where it can be frequently viewed by workers, such as the break room). If you have yet done so, here is an outline of what it should include:

The policy should begin with a statement about how the organization is committed to providing a zero-tolerance, discrimination and harassment-free workplace and that all employees are expected to follow this policy. It’s also a good idea to mention that no one who comes forward with a claim will be adversely affected in employment.

You may also wish to include a definition of sexual harassment in the policy. Here is an example of the U.S. Department of State’s definition:

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

1) An employment decision affecting that individual is made because the individual submitted to or rejected the unwelcome conduct; or

2) The unwelcome conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment.

Employers should also include a list of examples of behaviors that would be considered inappropriate, how employees should go about reporting harassment claims, as well as how harassers will be disciplined. Be sure to state, however, that the list is not all-inclusive and is provided as a guideline.

It may also be a good idea for employers to consult with an experienced HR expert (Hey! I think we know some of those) to determine additional methods of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Step 2: Encourage Consensual Agreement Forms For Office Romances

Also known as “love contracts,” these forms are signed by the participants of the romantic relationship to ensure that both parties have entered the relationship willingly. Although there is some controversy over these contracts, they help to protect both the company as well as both parties involved. The forms ensure that no one is being pressured into the relationship, therefore preventing future cries of sexual harassment. Here is an outline of what your consensual agreement should acknowledge:

  • That the relationship is consensual.
  • That they understand and have received a copy of the company’s sexual harassment policy.
  • That they understand that they cannot be in a direct report/supervisor role of the other individual.
  • That if the relationship should end, they will not do anything work related to retaliate against the other nor will they continue to pursue the relationship while at work.

While the concept seems fairly basic, it’s a good idea to have some help putting these together, and then have them reviewed by your legal counsel.  The last thing you want to do is be accused of sexual misconduct yourself because of the verbiage in your agreement!

Make sure to get it in writing and get it signed!

Step 3: Never Laugh At Or Encourage Inappropriate Jokes

Some people have more vivid senses of humor than others; we all know that! Even though you may personally relate to someone’s vibrant sense of humor, there is a time and a place for everything. Not everyone may say that lovin’ feeling when it comes to joking around. Remind employees that others may find sexual jokes to be crude and unpleasant, instead of comical.   If an employee makes an inappropriate comment or joke, be sure to tell them so.  If it’s in a group setting, you certainly shouldn’t reprimand them publically, but you shouldn’t remain silent either.  Otherwise, the rest of the staff will be standing around thinking “I can’t believe so-and-so said that and the boss didn’t say anything!”

Step 4: Keep Your Office Parties “PG” Rated

Everyone loves getting together and cutting loose for a fun time with their colleagues. Throwing summer picnics and get-togethers can be great for boosting the team morale (check out our blog cover what you should and shouldn’t wear to these events).

However, it may be a good idea to remind employees about prohibited sexual behaviors. Having a meeting before the event to review the sexual harassment policy and the office dress code can be a nice way to ensure all of your employees have recently heard the policies and know what is and isn’t acceptable.

Step 5: Ensure That All Upper-Level Employees Attend Anti-Harassment Workshops

Doing so will help to ensure that the management has a clear and uniform understanding about this harassment and how to go about handling situations that may arise.

Step 6: Respond to Sexual Harassment Complaints Right Away

Taking immediate action to investigate and address a situation where an employee reports sexual harassment can not only decrease or eliminate your organization’s liability, but it also lets employees know that this kind of inappropriate behavior has consequences and will not be tolerated.

Step 7: Prevent Retaliation

Many victims of sexual harassment are cautious of coming forward with their complaint because of fear of retaliation by the harasser.

This is why it is important to remind all employees that retaliating against someone for filing a sexual harassment claim is not only wrong, it’s against the law.

Also, when employees chose to carry out plans of vengeance, it can both expose your company to liability and encourage the harassers.

Your most powerful tool for keeping sexual harassment at bay is an effective prevention plan. Employers should make every effort to provide a safe and comfortable environment for their employees. Hopefully after you’ve gone over these preventative steps with your workforce, you can get through this season and many more without any problems.

Remember, Integrity HR offers employee training programs to help you create and keep a high performance organization! Click the link above to learn more or give us a call! 502.753.0970

about the author: Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.

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