Employers have a responsibility to protect workers from sexual harassment in the workplace. It is incumbent on employers to address this topic with all employees and to implement policies that deter the behavior. However, even thorough sexual harassment training programs and strict enforcement of policies doesn’t always deter employees from engaging in harassment. That is why it is vital for employers to take the following five steps to protect themselves from potential sexual harassment lawsuits.
1. Adopt Effective Policies and Educate Employees
Your employment policy should define sexual harassment and provide examples of unacceptable behaviors. Policies should discuss physical, verbal, and sexual contact among employees. Your sexual harassment policy should identify the procedures and actions that will happen following a charge of sexual harassment.
Your policy should discuss clear consequences including reassignment, suspension, termination, etc. You will want to provide a copy of the policy to all employees. They should return an acknowledgment of receipt that you should keep in the employee’s file. It is also advisable to conduct regular refresher sexual harassment training at least once per year.
2. Train Supervisors and Managers
Supervisors and managers are your first line of defense against sexual harassment lawsuits. These individuals have direct contact with their team members and can quickly respond to incidents. Supervisors and managers should receive updated sexual harassment training at least once per year. These training sessions should be exclusive to supervisors and managers. This facilitates free discussion regarding the effectiveness of the existing sexual harassment policy.
3. Monitor Workplace “Chatter”
Employees talk to one another and rumors of sexual harassment spread like a dark cloud over an organization. Listening to what employees are saying provides vital clues that you can investigate. Further, maintain an open line of communication with all employees. Often, the target of sexual harassment is not the first to report an incident; it is usually a co-worker or supervisor. While there are times when you will have to weed through rumors and innuendo, you never want to ignore the possibility that harassment is happening.
4. Take Action Immediately
You should never delay taking action when a charge of sexual harassment in the workplace emerges. Even when the only initial evidence is hearsay, investigate it immediately. Prompt action allows you to gather additional evidence. This can include surveillance footage, phone logs, emails, eyewitness statements, etc. This information can either prove or disprove the charge. Prompt action also gives you an opportunity to contact both the alleged target and alleged perpetrator. If necessary, you can separate the involved parties while you conduct your investigation.
5. Be Thorough and Decisive
Take decisive action when an investigation determines that sexual harassment has occurred. Your first step is to protect the accuser from retaliation. This may require a job transfer, schedule change, supervisor change, etc. You will also need to apply the appropriate consequence for the perpetrator. This typically involves terminating their employment. However, depending on the circumstances and evidence, you may decide that transferring the individual, adjusting schedules, etc. is a more appropriate corrective action.
Finally, you must compile and maintain a thorough record of the incident and your actions. If either employee brings litigation against you, these records establish the policies that were violated, the results of your investigation, and the corrective measures you implemented.
We invite you to contact GreenLink Payroll at (480) 385-2525 for more information about the HR services we provide to employers. It is our pleasure to discuss the strategies we recommend for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.