It’s been impossible to ignore all the different media outlets discussing recent sexual harassment incidents with movie stars, politicians and high-level executives in corporate America. There is no better time than now for companies to remind their employees about their sexual harassment policies. In addition to reviewing your policy, it is also a good time to examine your procedures for reporting any claims of harassment, update your harassment training program if necessary, and check state laws on this topic to make sure your company is in compliance.
Your employees must be able to trust in the process and feel that they will be treated fairly. If they don’t, then they won’t come forward and small issues can become bigger issues, which could expose your company to a potential lawsuit. Remind your employees that your company has a strong zero tolerance sexual harassment policy including resending out the policy or, at a minimum, telling employees where they can find a copy of the policy, which should be in your employee handbook.
Let employees know they should report ANY kind of harassment (actions, jokes, comments, etc.) based upon sex, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, and sexual orientation to the appropriate parties and be sure to provide a list of the names or position titles of those parties. It is good to have multiple points of contact for them. For instance, if the harasser is the supervisor and the policy says to report the harassment to the employee’s supervisor, that leaves the individual unsure where to report. Consider offering an anonymous reporting hotline from an independent third party. If you are using a third party, make sure these external reports go to multiple people internally at your company.
Assure your employees there will be no retaliation for anyone coming forward. Promise to investigate any report and to the extent possible, remind them that their confidentiality and that of any witnesses and the alleged harasser will be protected against unnecessary disclosure.
Sometimes employees feel that they have to be the one to personally experience the harassment. This is not the case. Employees who witness harassment should be encouraged to speak up if they see someone being harassed whether by another employee or even a company customer/client, vendor, or supplier. Remind them that harassment can also occur at company-sponsored business and social events. Social media, email, and text messages are all within the scope of prohibited conduct too.
Your employees need to understand there will be action taken, so explain how the misconduct will be handled, which may include dismissal of the offender or termination of the relationship in the case of a client, vendor, or supplier.
There are good online and video training programs, which can also be good resources to share with your employees. These resources need to include real world examples and illustrate what conduct is unacceptable, how that conduct adversely impacts employees, how to address and report any concerns, and the potential consequences for those that violate the policies. Training for supervisors and managers needs to be more in-depth as they have a responsibility to protect the employees they supervise and your company from liability.
With regard to state laws, sometimes they require additional steps. For example, California requires employers with more than 50 people to have those that manage employees complete harassment training that is no less than two hours long every two years, and all new supervisors must also complete the training within six months of getting promoted. Effective January 1, 2018, California added that the training now needs to include content on harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. These state laws can change at any time.
Every employer’s goal is to maintain a professional and safe environment for everyone. We are here to help. If you need additional resources or have questions about this topic, contact us.
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