Sexual harassment was a relatively unreported issue prior to 2017. It shouldn’t have been.
Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when an employee makes unwelcome sexual advances toward another. This not only encompasses requests for sexual favors, or physical and verbal conduct that pertains to a sexual nature, it can also be comments or jokes that touch on sexually charged topics.
As an employer, where can you start to ensure your company provides a productive, healthy and inclusive work environment?
• Have a clear policy: Having a written policy helps discourage sexual harassment before it starts. This might seem overwhelming if you don’t know what that policy should look like. It should, for the most part, define inappropriate behaviors. Even if you write the policy after employees are hired, you can get their acknowledgment of receipt and place it in their employee file.
• Teach anti-harassment at all levels: Whether it’s formally or informally, letting employees know what behavior constitutes harassment is important. Add it into your next employee meeting or put it on the agenda for your next training sessions. Quick and simple videos can help you facilitate the discussion.
• Define and discourage inappropriateness: Often, what one employee deems as within the boundaries of office camaraderie, another considers inappropriate. Defining appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a policy is a primary step. What starts as relatively benign behavior can quickly escalate. Be cognizant of these pitfalls before they get out of control.
• Encourage transparency and trust: Sexual harassment often goes unreported because employees don’t feel anyone will listen. Do you encourage an open dialogue with your employees? Do they have a way to communicate with you privately?
• Be aware that sexual harassment is not gender specific: Some men believe they cannot speak up if they’ve been sexually harassed. Many women also worry that they can’t report mistreatment if it came from another woman. Despite these concerns, it’s crucial for every employer to acknowledge these types of harassments also happen. Sexual harassment can take place between any two employees, regardless of gender.
• Sexual harassment will not be tolerated: It’s an employer’s responsibility to make sure employees feel safe and secure. I consider the responsibility to discourage sexual harassment a vital aspect of my role as an employer, and encourage all employers to take a similar stance in their leadership roles.
Remember, on the topic of sexual harassment, it’s most important for employers to establish one clear message: It will not be tolerated.
Ellie Naqvi is the legal administrator at Naqvi Injury Law.