Flirting with Danger: What Constitutes Sexual Harassment at Work

January 21, 2014

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Any behavior of a sexual nature that makes an employee remotely uncomfortable can be considered sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is gender-neutral and based on sex, not simply sexual orientation; people of the same sex can sexually harass each other. Given this broad definition, you and your employees should be extremely cautious that your company’s deportment does not give the slightest suggestion of licentiousness. Use these strategies to reduce the risk of sexual harassment and prevent claims.

Implement a clear policy

Your company’s employee handbook should have a section devoted exclusively to sexual harassment. This policy should define sexual harassment and dictate a procedure for filing complaints. The policy should also voice your company’s intolerance of sexual harassment in any form. It should clearly state your pledge to investigate all claims and discipline any wrongdoers.

Train employees.

Conduct training sessions at least once a year to instruct your employees on the sexual harassment policy. During these sessions, define sexual harassment, review complaint procedures, and assure employees of their right to a workplace free from sexual harassment. You should also have a special training session for supervisors and managers separate from the general employee session. This session should cover how to deal with complaints and implement punishments.

Monitor your workplace.

It’s important to follow up after your training sessions. Gather feedback from your employees and keep all lines of communication open. Sexual harassment is an awkward topic for discussion, but professionalism requires periodically checking in and letting your employees know you are available and willing to have an uncomfortable conversation to avoid a dangerous complaint.

Take all complaints seriously.

Better safe than sorry. If someone brings an issue to your attention, investigate immediately. If the complaint turns out to be valid, your response should be just as prompt and effect. Document every step of the process beginning with the first incident and including all courses of action and the result.

-Adapted from The Essential Guide to Handling Workplace Harassment & Discrimination, by Deborah C. England  

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