What You Need to Know About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Keeping employees safe in the workplace is a priority for employers. Learn your responsibilities regarding sexual harassment incidents at work.

Posted by Timothy Dimoff in on November 14th, 2017

The news is overflowing with stores of sexual harassment in the workplace. While it is not a new occurrence, it is now in the mainstream media in a big way.

I have spoken out about sexual harassment in the workplace for years and have always encouraged companies to take a firm stand against any type of sexual harassment. This includes having strong polices that are clearly stated in their handbooks and training sessions.

What is Sexual Harassment?

It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person's sex.
The EEOC definition of sexual harassment states: “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

Harassing behaviors

It’s important to understand that sexual harassment can also include offensive remarks about a person’s sex in general. Sexual harassment knows no bounds and can be perpetrated by any sex, different sexes or even members of the same sex.

It might include behaviors like unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, direct or indirect threats or bribes for sexual activity, sexual innuendos and comments, sexually suggestive jokes, unwelcome touching or brushing against a person, pervasive displays of materials with sexually illicit or graphic content, and attempted or completed sexual assault.

A Sexual Harassment Complaint Form template is an irreplaceable tool for tracking incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The harassment can be done by a boss, another employee, or even a client or customer.
Anytime a hostile or offensive comment or action takes places that puts a victim in a hostile work environment, it constitutes sexual harassment.  The harassment can be done by a boss, another employee, or even a client or customer.

sexual harassment in the workplace

Protect your company

There are ways to protect your company. Having a strong employee handbook that clearly outlines your policies on the subject is an important step. You need this even if you have a very small company. Make sure it includes:

  • A clear definition of sexual harassment
  • A statement that sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated
  • A defined statement that includes the penalties for any sexual or other harassment behaviors including disciplinary action and even firing
  • Actions and procedures for filing sexual harassment complaints
  • A clear statement that any complaint that you receive will be fully investigated
  • A strong statement that you will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who complains about sexual harassment.

A Code of Conduct is ideal for laying out the employers’ stance on sexual harassment. Let us get you started with our Code of Conduct template.

Be sure to conduct employees training sessions annually. Teach employees and managers about what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report it.

Take all complaints seriously.
Additionally, it is a good idea to conduct separate annual managerial training that teaches supervisors and managers how to recognize sexual harassment and how to properly deal with any complaints or issues that might arise.

Take all complaints seriously. If someone complains about sexual harassment, investigate the complaint right away. If the complaint turns out to be valid, your response must also be immediate.

Document all complaints

If you find that there is an instance of sexual harassment in your workplace, document everything. This includes every instance of reported harassment and every interview of any witnesses.

If the incident progresses and legal action is required, an employee disciplinary action form can prove the employer intervened. Don’t have one? Use our template.

Take any disciplinary action that is in accordance with your policy and handbook.
Confront the harasser directly about their behavior. Make sure they understand that their behavior is offensive and inappropriate. You can also do this in written form but either way, make sure there is complete documentation. And take any disciplinary action that is in accordance with your policy and handbook.

Employers’ responsibilities for sexual harassment

Employers have a legal responsibility to maintain a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. In order to avoid potential lawsuits and a possible PR nightmare, you must take steps to prevent and end the behaviors.

Monitor your workplace.

Talk to your employees and managers about the work environment.

Look around the workplace yourself.

Do you see anything offensive? If so, take immediate action!

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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