Sexual harassment policies need to be clear and complete, but the policy must then be followed by a strong and active training program.
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have created an atmosphere in which more victims of past sexual harassment or sexual assault are poised to come forward, the preliminary sexual harassment data for 2018, from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), now suggests that #MeToo is beginning to make inroads into the workplace.
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Employers must continue to be on guard and proactive in making their places of employment free from a hostile work environment in all forms and, in particular, free from sexual harassment. Ever since the EEOC began its emphasis on ending sexual harassment, this workplace issue has been one of the most difficult to police. When does “kidding around” become harassment? And from whose perspective?
Zero Tolerance to Training … Your Sexual Harassment Policy Needs It All
One tool for clarifying these issues in your workplace is a complete sexual harassment policy. Complete, says employment attorney Michael Roumell, means that it includes these eight elements. See how your policy measures up to this checklist:
- Zero Tolerance: Since sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue with many potential “gray” areas, it’s best to cast your policy in stark black and white. Employees should feel uneasy about even thinking of their coworkers in sexual terms, lest they cross a line that they didn’t even know was there.
- Examples: Giving illustrations of what can be construed as sexual harassment will clarify your policy.
- Definition: A clear definition of sexual harassment is a must-have.
- Duty to Report: Employees who feel they’ve suffered sexual harassment have to understand that their part in the process is a timely and accurate report to the appropriate management authority.
- Retaliation: Since sexual harassment is often a power move by a supervisor over a subordinate, those who’ve been subjected to harassment or witnessed it must know they have protection against later vengeful acts.
- Complaint procedure: Every step should be clearly spelled out. The investigative procedure should also be detailed.
- Confidentiality: Victims of sexual harassment often feel embarrassed about it. Make things easier by promising the greatest degree of confidentiality possible. You cannot, however, promise absolute confidentiality as you may be compelled to provide information to law enforcement or litigating attorneys, as well as to others in management.
- Training: This last is a must-have, not only as a point of sexual harassment policy, but as an active program.
Corrections Department’s Sexual Harassment Program Needed Correction
That last point became abundantly clear in a New Jersey case a few years ago, in which a female corrections officer lodged charges against her captain. The county government that employed them both had a strong sexual harassment policy in place but not the training program to go with it.
Though lower courts ruled that the policy was enough to free the employer from liability, the New Jersey Supreme Court eventually decided to punish the county for not following its words with appropriate deeds.