Sexual harassment in the workplace comes in two main forms. There is quid pro quo sexual harassment that occurs when someone demands sexual favors from a co-worker or subordinate either for a job-based reward or to avoid a work-related consequence. The other is the creation of a hostile work environment, which might involve flirting or jokes that make someone feel unsafe and alienated at work.
Your company can face financial claims for sexual harassment because of something one of your workers does. How can you minimize the risk that an employee will bring a lawsuit against your company because of someone else’s aggressive flirting or inappropriate habits?
Have a no-tolerance policy for sexual harassment
Most employers should draft a sexual harassment policy and included it in their employee handbooks and training materials. A good policy defines sexual harassment and explicitly states that your company will not tolerate that behavior. You can even outline the possible penalties for sexual harassment, including write-ups, employee education programs and termination.
Have an easy-to-follow reporting process
You don’t just need to tell your workers not to harass each other. You have to give them away to speak up about misconduct on the job. Creating not just one but ideally two different methods that an employee can use to address sexual harassment is a valuable step.
If someone has to go directly to a member of the management team or human resources, they could end up forced to make a report to someone who harasses them or has a close relationship with their sexual harasser. By providing a second option or workaround, you limit the possibility that workers will feel like they cannot speak up due to the risk of retaliation.
Investigate complaints and keep thorough records
If a worker ever does complain of mistreatment by management or a co-worker, your company has an obligation to take their complaint seriously. The company should document every step of the complaint and investigation process for optimal transparency. You may need to review security footage, talk to other members of the team and make scheduling changes to temporarily move the person accused away from the person facing mistreatment.
It’s important to understand that making changes to the work responsibilities or shift of the person making the report could constitute retaliation. If your company employs the right steps, you will reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring at your company and also of your company being legally responsible for that harassment if it does occur.
Understanding employment laws can help employers remain in compliance and avoid potentially expensive mistakes.