As an employer, you are responsible for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Establishing an anti-harassment policy, training staff to follow and understand the policies and enforcing a zero tolerance rule in the workplace are just the beginning when it comes to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. We understand that some employees choose not to abide by these rules, even though they are aware of the consequences for their actions. This is why it is important to apply our investigation tips from our posts “8 Internal Investigations Tips” and “Internal Investigation Preparation” to handling workplace sexual harassment complaints.
Enforcement is key when dealing with sexual harassment allegations. Put a system in place that corresponds with your anti-harassment policies and procedures, giving employees clear instructions outlining how to make a complaint should they encounter a sexual harassment situation, and what they should expect from management once their complaint is made.
Definition of Sexual Harassment:
According to EEOC, sexual harassmentis defined as : “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.”
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Responsibility of HR/ER Managers:
Some companies feel that they are meeting their obligations to employees regarding the prevention of workplace sexual harassment by creating and handing out an anti-sexual harassment policy to show that one exists. According to this article from equalrights.org, if an employer has a policy but does not enforce it, or if an employer fails to investigate sexual harassment complaints but investigates other complaints of misconduct, then the employer may not be taking reasonable care. The costs associated with sexual harassment cases that do not get investigated can reach well over millions of dollars if employers fail to take these matters seriously. In the case of Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing in 1998, female workers at the Normal, Illinois plant were awarded $34 million plus the amounts awarded in other individual claims regarding the same sexual harassment suit.
Establishing an effective complaint / grievance system and taking prompt, appropriate action when an employee files a sexual harassment complaint are the ultimate solutions to preventing workplace sexual harassment- they are also easier to use and far more affordable than becoming involved in lengthy lawsuits. Training your employees is an important step in the enforcement process, as you want them to report any and all cases of sexual harassment they encounter. Document all training sessions, attendees and follow up notices to have on file, as this can come in handy as a source of evidence in a case.
Here are some complaint procedure development tips for managers outlined by the EEOC:
- Encourage employees to report harassment to management before it becomes severe or overly repetitive.
- Designate more than one individual to take complaints, and should ensure that these individuals are in accessible locations- this can be a team in human resources, or a group of managers designated to handling complaints.
- Instruct all supervisors to report complaints of any harassment they observe to the designated individuals.
- Assure employees that all possible measures are being taken to protect the confidentiality of their complaint.
Another important feature that should be integrated into any workplace would be internal investigation software. Web-based solutions like i-Sight Investigations Software, are easy to use tools that will allow you to manage your case load and make sure that complaints are dealt with in a timely manner. Cases can be assigned to one or many members of a team to handle, allowing more than one person to work on the case at a time.
When a complaint is made, it must be assigned to an investigator and they must accept the assignment- allowing you to follow up on case progress and lessen the time it takes for an investigation to take place. These investigation solutions are ideal for handling sexual harassment complaints due to the importance of immediacy when handling these types of allegations. In many cases, the actions of the harasser are usually displayed multiple times- our solutions allow you to easily seek out repeat offenders in the cases made.
Taking these steps to enforce workplace policies regarding sexual harassment can reduce the hostility in your workplace, save you time, stress and money, and result in fewer sexual harassment situations because your employees know that all matters are taken seriously, consequences will be rendered and sexual harassment will no be tolerated. As always, actions speak louder than words… and written handbooks.