The issue of sexual harassment has been a silent whisper in corridors for years now but with recent high-profile cases coming to light, the floodgates have opened and employees everywhere are opening up about their personal encounters in the workplace and how it has harmed them.
Since this serious topic is more important than ever before, it’s vital that, as a manager, you know what sexual harassment truly is and what actions you can take to prevent it and ensure your organisation is never put under the spotlight for such a significant issue.
Here is all you need to know about sexual harassment in the workplace…
What is Sexual Harassment?
It’s important to first know what legally constitutes sexual harassment, so you can identify if a colleague has acted in such a way. It can be defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, or any sexual conduct on the job that creates a hostile, intimidating and/or offensive workplace. It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has to make a pass at another person for it to be considered harassment; it could simply mean ‘sexual jokes’ or comments.
Here are some examples of what could be considered sexual harassment:
- An employee making derogatory comments about another person’s physical appearance
- Employees sending or telling sexually explicit jokes to colleagues
- One employee sending another employee an email that uses suggestive or explicit language
- A boss or colleague referring to another coworker in a sexist and demeaning way
- A manager making advances at an employee in order for them to get ahead in the workplace
- A worker groping another coworker
- An employee asking another out on a date over and over again and/or unwanted flirting
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects or pictures in the workplace
How Do You Prevent Sexual Harassment?
1. Create a Strong Policy
If you haven’t already outlined your sexual harassment policy in your employee handbook, it’s time to consult a legal advisor and implement this immediately. You could also include it on your company service or on the general bulletin to ensure employees can revisit it and have easy access to it whenever they want. It’s important to keep reviewing and revising it to see if any amendments are necessary.
Your policy should typically include a statement about how the organisation is committed to providing a zero-tolerance, discrimination and harassment-free workplace and that all employees are expected to follow this policy. You should also include that any claims brought forward will be kept confidential until further noted by the employee.
2. Never Encourage Inappropriate Jokes
We’re all human and occasionally find some inappropriate situations quite comical but in a workplace setting, you should remain professional at all times. Never laugh or encourage anything that could be considered inappropriate, even if it is a minor comment.
If you’re in a situation where an employee makes an innapropriate joke, be sure to let them know that it’s not acceptable so others don’t think they can behave in this manner too.
3. Provide Training and Workshops
It is essential that all supervisors and managers complete training on how to handle and prevent sexual harassment; it’s important for managers to pass this information down to their staff through various training sessions, too. It’s also a good idea to mention that bystanders can also come forward and report harassment or sexism on behalf of another employee. Many victims may feel too scared to or vulnerable to talk about it themselves and bystanders don’t realise that they have the right to step in – so bringing this to light will open everyone’s eyes and will make all staff feel supported.
4. Respond to Complaints Straight Away
It’s vital that you take immediate action to every single complaint and try to find a solution as soon as possible. There are thousands of cases where claims are pushed to the side and not taken care of, leaving the employee no other choice than to leave the organisation or take external legal action.
It’s ideal to have set measures and steps in place for when you receive a complaint. Employees should first be able to express their concerns confidentially before having to involve their alleged harasser. They should then be given a number of options and should decide for themselves which method they’d like to follow through with.
5. Keep an Eye on the Workplace
You should regularly check up on your employees to see that the workplace is harassment free. You can also encourage supervisors to walk around in case they overhear any cases that could be considered harassment. A constant presence of authority may discourage any harassment from occurring in the first place.
6. Encourage Staff to Open Up
Ensure your supervisors have a clear line of communication with staff members so they feel comfortable talking to them and feel safe opening up about personal issues. Managerial figures should regularly check in with their team members and should arrange a private chat if they feel like something is wrong. They are the ones who know their personalities best and can detect when something isn’t quite right.
You could also think of other measures, like keeping an anonymous drop box where staff drop comments into a box about the workplace and the company culture in general. It can help improve the organisation as a whole and address any issues that people are scared to talk about in person.
Do You Need to Set Up a Sexual Harassment Programme?
1. Have a Number of Authority Figures that Employees can Talk To
Rather than having just a single supervisor or HR worker dealing with sexual harassment cases, you should arrange for a number of different authority figures to be open to talk to any employee from any department about these type of issues.
A single employee may find another supervisor more approachable than their own and will feel more comfortable talking to them; therefore, the more open lines of communication you have, the better.
2. Create a Support Group
If your organisation has the budget, you could consider setting up a support group for employees that are suffering from harassment or any other mental health issues. You can set up a hotline, chat system, website or set a specific HR representative in your organisation to deal with such issues.
There is no guaranteed way that you can avoid sexual harassment in the workplace entirely. But, by using these steps and strategies you should be able to keep a close eye on it and tackle each case before it gets out of hand. It’s about setting a policy and emphasising what’s right and what’s wrong.
Have you enforced a sexual harassment policy? Let us know how your organisation tackles this problem in the comment section below…