Sexual harassment is a potential problem for businesses of all sizes. And once a claim is filed, investigation, litigation and settlement can cost your company thousands of dollars.
Instead of waiting until a claim is made (or worse yet, taking an "It can't happen here" approach), take a proactive stance by creating an effective program of awareness and prevention.
Here are the basic steps you'll need to take. The size or nature of your business may require additional considerations.
Become familiar with the Federal and State laws governing sexual harassment in your business location. Understand the definition, policies, and remedies offered by law. Be sure you are completely clear about the definitions of harassment.
If you have not already done so, develop a written sexual harassment policy for your company. Check with your company attorney to make sure your policy is legal, and is clearly stated. Include it in your employee handbook and post information about the policy around your company. Most companies are already required to maintain labor law posters, so display your company's specific policies in the same area.
Create a list of the potential risks for your specific business. For instance, if you own a retail clothing store there could be risks for employee to employee harassment, manager to employee harassment, customer to employee harassment, vendor to employee harassment, etc.
Brainstorm a set of scenarios in which sexual harassment could occur in your business. Remember, sexual harassment is not limited to men harassing women. It can also be women harassing men, same gender sexual harassment, or group harassment. Try to identify where your company's highest risk settings/situations might occur.
Develop a way to educate your employees about the risks, the procedures for addressing harassment and the penalties within your location and your company. Role playing is a good tool to use to illustrate the many forms of sexual harassment. Remember to include a variety of "couples" in your role playing demonstrations, including same gender and group harassment. There are excellent books and other materials available to help you create a good training program.
Schedule a training session for your employees. You may wish to do this in small groups if you have a large number of employees. A topic such as sexual harassment generates more interaction and a higher level of effectiveness if delivered in a small group such as a work team, rather than as a company-wide event. Distribute copies of the policy at the start of the meeting, even if the policy has been in effect for some time.
Monitor the audience reaction during the training. If the response is disinterest or if employees are mocking the concepts, you may wish to note any patterns or trends. For instance, if the shipping department is laughing and making side comments, you may wish to schedule a feedback session for that part of the company to find out why they felt the material was funny or irrelevant.
Get anonymous feedback from as many employees as possible. Ask:
- What they thought about the training
- How they would define sexual harassment
- Whether they have experienced or are experiencing sexual harassment within your company (and if so, what and when?)
At the end of the survey, encourage employees to come forth to report any examples they may see.
Use the feedback and the reports to refine your training. Adapt future training to reflect those concerns or needs.
Sexual harassment can destroy the morale and productivity at a company. Make your company harassment-proof with a solid policy, good training and a commitment to making your business safe for all employees.
Writer, searcher, seeker