With sexual harassment in the workplace being one of the leading news stories this year, many employers are asking “What can I do to protect my employees and minimize the risk of harassment at my organization?” Although it seems that sexual harassment is hitting epidemic levels, there are several steps employers can be taking to be proactive and safeguard against harassment and discrimination. The EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace has outlined five core principles that have been proven to be effective is preventing and addressing harassment:
- “Committed and engaged leadership;
- Consistent and demonstrated accountability;
- Strong and comprehensive harassment policies;
- Trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and
- Regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.”
Sexual Harassment Policy:
The first step to eliminating sexual harassment is having a policy which clearly states the Company’s stance and adheres to state and federal law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which protects employees against discrimination, including sexual harassment, applies to companies with fifteen or more employees, however it is recommended that every company, no matter what the size, have a sexual harassment policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency which oversees discrimination law, recommends sexual harassment policies include the following:
- Definition of sexual harassment and prohibited behavior;
- Statement which protects employees who raise harassment concerns from retaliation;
- Information about the complaint process and details about who employees can contact both within the organization, as well as the state and national agencies to file a complaint;
- In most cases, employees have 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC. These time frames may be extended based on state laws.
- Statement that the investigation process will be prompt, thorough and impartial;
- Assurance that the employer will take appropriate action upon conclusion of the investigation that is commensurate with the findings.
Some states require that additional information also be included in the policy. Employees should be given a copy of the policy upon hire and be required to sign acknowledgement of receipt of the policy. While the policy is often stated in the Company’s Employee Handbook, it is also recommended that it be pulled out of the handbook annually and distributed as a standalone document each year with a separate acknowledgement of receipt.
In additional to having a sexual harassment policy, employees should be trained on that policy. In some states, such as California, Maine and Connecticut, training is required as well as many federal agencies are also required to complete training. It’s recommended that all employees be trained upon hire and then annually going forward. Training should cover the key components of the policy as outlined above by the EEOC as well as additional state mandated training. Managers should have additional training on handling complaints, how to escalate complaints to the appropriate person within the organization, and conducting investigations. Due to the sensitivity of training, it’s recommended that training not be done with larger groups and be done face-to-face, rather than through videos or webinars where employees could easily tune out what is being said. Employees should sign an attendance sheet which should be maintained by the company.
While a sexual harassment policy and training will set the tone for the organization, building a culture that is free from sexual harassment and discrimination comes for the top. The leadership team should set an example for appropriate behavior in the workplace, including attending training alongside their employees. Should a claim of harassment be brought forward, leadership should act appropriately on the claim and not ignore the situation. Good communication is also key to building a respectful work environment.
For more information about sexual harassment policies, training and claims, contact Insight Performance at 781-326-8201.