These days, sexual harassment claims in the workplace are rampant. Although the most notable circumstances of late — and there are many — occurred in industries where big names and veils of silence go hand in hand, Hollywood and politics aren't the only places sexual harassment happens.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment has long been one of the major obstacles which company leaders have been forced to face. Over time, stringent HR policies and solid efforts on behalf of employers have seemingly lessened these uncomfortable occurrences, but that's not to say women and men aren't dealing with sexual provocation on a daily basis. Business owners need to take proper precautions to protect their companies against claims of sexual harassment. Should negligence to this important subject land leaders in court, they could face incredibly high penalties, up to or including loss of their businesses.
So, what's a business owner to do in terms of protecting his or her business against sexual harassment allegations?
Establish a Clear Sexual Harassment Policy
Every company needs to have an employee handbook, which addresses each policy, procedure and behavior by which employees are expected to abide. Sexual harassment should have its own devoted section within the handbook, which clearly addresses the following:
- Definition of sexual harassment. The definition should be stated in no uncertain terms, providing no gray area for questionable behavior;
- Zero-tolerance policy. To protect itself, a company must be unwilling to accept any form of sexual harassment, and this statement should be clearly outlined within the handbook;
- Disciplinary possibilities. Employees need to clearly understand what could or will happen, should they violate the company's sexual harassment policies;
- Complaint & investigation procedures. Employees should easily be able to learn how to file a claim and understand what happens after they've done so
Conduct Regular Anti-Sexual Harassment Training Sessions
Sexual harassment should be thoroughly addressed as part of each employee's onboarding process. Additionally, at least once a year, everyone in the company should undergo sexual harassment training. In these meetings, employees should be reminded what sexual harassment is, how the company handles complaints, and what they need to do if they feel they're being sexually harassed. Supervisors' trainings should be held separately and include in-depth lessons about how to handle complaints and employees who are involved in sexual harassment situations.
For optimal protection, these sessions should be conducted by an HR professional. Businesses that don't have an in-house HR team should consider outsourcing annual training sessions to firms that specialize in human resources to ensure they're properly covering all the essential points.
Abide by the Law
Some states have specific requirements pertaining to sexual harassment education. Employers must know their obligations — and adhere to them — to prevent additional problems, should a claim ever be filed against the company or its employees.
Monitor the Workplace
This isn't a "no news is good news" situation. Many people aren't comfortable talking about sexual harassment and may need extra reassurance that it's okay to report inappropriate behavior. Leaders shouldn't be disconnected from their employees; instead, they should periodically meet with their people, ask for input, and be aware of any questionable notes or actions around the workplace.
If you or your company are facing sexual harassment allegations, it's important to seek the assistance of a skilled attorney immediately. The longer you wait, the more susceptible your business is to compounding penalties and damage to your reputation; the latter of which could ultimately mean the demise of your business.