Sexual harassment is in the spotlight but it's not the kind of attention any company wants. Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.
Employers should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that can occur in a variety of circumstances. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct:
- Explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment,
- Unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or
- Creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Preventing and Correcting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Below are three actions the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends employers take to prevent and correct workplace harassment.
- Establish, distribute, and enforce a policy prohibiting harassment and setting out a procedure for making complaints. An employer's anti-harassment policy should make clear that the employer will not tolerate sexual harassment or retaliation against anyone who complains of harassment or who participates in an investigation.
- Conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of any harassment complaint. The investigator should interview the employee who complained of harassment, the alleged harasser, and others who could reasonably be expected to have relevant information. The alleged harasser should not have any direct or indirect control over the investigation.
- Take immediate measures to stop confirmed harassment and ensure it does not recur. Disciplinary measures should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense. The employer also should correct the effects of the harassment by, for example, restoring leave taken because of the harassment and expunging negative evaluations in the employee's personnel file that arose from the harassment.
Taking steps to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace not only promotes a healthy and productive work environment, it may also help an employer defend against liability in the event the employer is held responsible for unlawful harassment. Take the time to review and refine your company's policy and enforcement procedures to make sure you're not next in the spotlight.