The most effective weapon against sexual harassment and hostile work environment is prevention. Employers must be proactive with respect to issues of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If employees, managers and supervisors become convinced that sexual harassment complaints are taken seriously and that disciplinary action will always follow, the instances of sexual harassment in the workplace are significantly reduced. Here are some specific steps that will help an employer prevent sexual harassment and other forms of hostile work environment claims:
Prepare and Adopt a Written Policy Against Sexual Harassment
- Explain that management does not tolerate any form of harassment or intimidation of another employee under any circumstances;
- Define what constitutes sexual harassment including offensive comments, touching, derogatory statements, swear words, requests for dates, sexual favors and so on;
- Explain that all complaints will be thoroughly investigated and that violators will be subject to severe discipline, up to and including termination;
- Set out a clear sexual harassment complaint mechanism. The complaint procedure should provide more than one avenue for making a complaint. Most importantly, it must provide an avenue for by-passing a harassing supervisor who is in the victim’s chain of command;
- Incorporate a clause making it clear that no retaliation will be tolerated. Define retaliation as broadly as possible, as any actions directed to a complaining employee that tend to discourage future complaints or punish for present or past complaints;
- Explain that severe discipline including and up to termination will be imposed on any employee who engages in retaliation against those that complain;
- Have employees review and acknowledge receipt and understanding of the sexual harassment policy as well as the complaint mechanism.
Offer Sexual Harassment Training to Employees
- Conduct annual training sessions for employees where the sexual harassment policy and complaint mechanisms are discussed;
- Consider obtaining video-taped training seminars for employees to watch that demonstrate different types of conduct that amount to harassment as well as ways to deal with a harassing co-worker or boss;
- Encourage employees to use the complaint mechanism, emphasizing the availability of different avenues to complain where the harasser is within the victim’s chain of command.
Choose And Train Those Who Will Conduct Thorough Sexual Harassment Investigations in an Impartial Manner
- Perhaps the most important decision when a complaint is received is to determine who will conduct the investigation. Issues such as office politics, friendships, and acquaintances sometimes greatly influence the judgment of sexual harassment investigators. It is important to evaluate thoroughly those who can be objective in conducting investigations regardless of their relationship with the victim and/or the harasser.
Train Supervisors and Managers on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Possible Liability to the Company
- Explain that supervisors and managers are more likely than other employees to create liability for the company because their conduct is sometimes attributed directly to the company;
- Explain the sexual harassment policy and complaint mechanisms. Employees complaining about harassment should be immediately directed to the complaint mechanism and encouraged to use it. Supervisors should also invoke the complaint mechanism on behalf of a complaining employee;
- Consider obtaining video-taped training seminars for supervisors and managers to watch that demonstrate different types of conduct that amount to harassment as well as ways to deal with a harassing co-worker or boss;
- Emphasize different avenues to complain where the harassment is coming from the supervisor or individual to whom employees are supposed to complain.