Every employee deserves a workplace free of sexual harassment. Every employer should learn about the importance of addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and secure workplace, which includes being mindful of this issue.
Allowing such conduct to continue in your workplace could have devastating effects, such as low productivity, poor employee morale, and, in the worst case a lawsuit.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Sexually suggestive conduct, which makes an employee uncomfortable, has the potential to be labelled as sexual harassment. Workplace sexual harassment comes in different forms which in many instances makes it harder to pinpoint.
Instances of sexual harassment can include a manager suggesting to an employee that they should sleep with him/her to keep their job, or a colleague, who regularly makes sexually explicit jokes.
Anyone can be harassed at work as the harasser can be anyone in a work environment. This includes a supervisor, manager or co-worker, and in some instances, it can be a vendor or customer. In theory, sexual misconduct is a gender-neutral offense meaning men can sexually harass women and women can sexually harass men. However, people of the same sex can also sexually harass each other provided the harassment is based on the sex rather than sexual orientation.
How to prevent sexual harassment?
Workplace harassment can and should be prevented in any workplace environment. The onus lies with the employer, any company will try to ensure that the business is not held liable for more than they agreed to be responsible for. Here are some steps that can be implemented:
- Create a concise and clear sexual harassment policy: there needs to be a sexual harassment policy in place which clearly defines sexual harassment. This policy needs to state that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and explain the consequences as well as the process for reporting and investigating complaints.
- Educate your employees about sexual harassment: it’s recommended that employees receive sexual harassment training once per year which highlights common situations that employees might not consider to be sexual harassment but really are. This training also helps employees identify actions they can take if they find themselves in such situations.
- Monitor the workplace: employers must implement regular talks with employees about their working environment to ensure it remains harassment-free.
- Encourage employees to come forward: employers need to make it clear to employees that all information shared will be kept confidential and will not affect their job in any way.
- Take complaints seriously and investigate: employers must escalate all complaints received and perform thorough investigations to ensure all employees feel safe in their place of work.
Employers can hire a lawyer to offer legal advice in the instance of a sexual harassment claim. Such allegations can have a lasting impact on any business and must never be taken lightly. A lawyer can also assist with the investigation in order to establish whether a potential case has any merit.