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Are You Prepared To Handle Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Many business owners mistakenly assume that they will never have to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. The reality is that it does occur regularly, and many businesses are unprepared to address it when it happens. In 2016, the EEOC published survey results showing that 60% of women in the workplace had experienced unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, or sexist comments. More alarmingly, it showed that 90% of employees who had suffered sexual harassment never filed a formal complaint. This data highlights the importance of having a solid sexual harassment policy and taking a firm stance when it happens in your workplace.

Establish Your Foundation

Define sexual harassment. Make it clear that the unwanted conduct of a sexual nature is unwelcome. Use the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's definition, which is broad and provides a clear explanation of what is prohibited. This includes requests for sexual favors, uninvited sexual advances, verbal and physical contact that is sexual in nature, etc.

This definition is the foundation of your sexual harassment policy, but you must also include examples that demonstrate prohibited sexual harassment in the workplace. These may include:

  • Physical assaults including rape, sexual battery, molestation, or any attempts to commit these crimes. 
  • Physical assaults including unwanted physical contact such as pinching, patting, poking, grabbing, fondling, etc.
  • Sexual advances, such as repeated requests for dates or drinks after work. 
  • Offensive comments to include sexual remarks and jokes, comments about physical appearance, sexual preference, or sexual experience.
  • Offering preferential treatment or promises of promotions, bonuses, etc. in exchange for sexual favors. 
  • Threats of physical violence, demotion or termination, or threats of negative employment reviews in retaliation for rejected sexual advances.

Define the Process

Every allegation of sexual harassment in the workplace should be taken seriously. In order for this to happen, you must have a clear and defined process that your employees can depend on. 

Clearly identify who in our office is responsible for receiving and investigating complaints. Create a formal complaint process that is a guide that employees can follow. In most cases, this is handled by the HR team, and it creates a written record of the date, time, and circumstances of the incident. 

Protect the Accuser (and the Accused)

When an employee alleges sexual harassment in the workplace, it is vital to protect both the accuser and the accused. You must protect the accuser from retaliation, and you must protect the accused from harassment or disparagement. This is a difficult balancing act, but it is vital because you must remain impartial as the investigation progresses. Because there is the potential for the business to be found liable, you should work closely with an attorney to develop a policy and plan aligned with your state's legal requirements for reporting, investigation, and disciplinary action.

Training and a Watchful Eye Over Company Culture Are Crucial

Training your employees to identify and report sexual harassment shows employees that you take it seriously and support them if it occurs. But, it is only a first step, and actions speak louder than words. More importantly, it would be best if you fostered a healthy, respectful office culture. Combined, these steps will ensure you are prepared while helping reduce the possibility you will ever need to put the policy into action.

Contact Greenlink Payroll at (480) 385-2525 for more information about ways you can address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. We can help you create a safe, healthy, and productive work environment for all of your employees.

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