In recent years, many have come forward about their experiences with sexual harassment, especially in the workplace. The office can be an avenue of discrimination, sexual harassment, and other serious matters with legal consequences that all employers and businesses must address.
According to research, 69% of women have experienced sexual harassment in a professional setting, and 72% of the victims end up not reporting the incidents. Aside from the emotional distress they cause the victims, these cases can also cost an average of $2.6 billion in lost productivity or $1,053 per victim.
Although women are commonly the victims of sexual harassment, it does affect everyone, and abusers can even be of the same sex. The #MeToo Movement has shown how prevalent sexual harassment is in society—in some industries, even an open secret—seeing as these aren’t just isolated incidences but a collective oppressive experience.
The movement has pressured society to work together to solve sexual harassment and its other forms. Organizations must put preventive measures in place, and this infographic can guide you on ways to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
What is Sexual Harassment?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is the “unwelcome sexual advancements, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical acts that are sexual in nature.”
This can come in various forms and affect a person’s employment status and work performance. For instance, there are cases wherein sexual favors become the basis for an employee’s promotion instead of their work performance, whether explicitly or implicitly. This can also come in the form of sexist comments about a group of people.
Such acts can make others uncomfortable and unsafe in the workspace and create an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment. If left unaddressed, this may damage work relationships or lead to emotional, physical, and mental health problems for workplace sexual harassment victims.
How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
1. Make sure all employees understand what constitutes sexual harassment
As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees understand what behaviors, actions, and speech are considered sexual harassment, may they be blatant or subtle.
A wide range of behaviors and actions can be deemed undesirable, creating an unsafe work environment. These may include sending unsolicited sexual pictures, inappropriate sexual comments on a colleague, and the like. By doing this, employees can recognize behaviors that they must avoid, and victims know which actions call for a complaint.
2. Make anti-sexual harassment training mandatory
To help spread awareness, you can hold mandatory anti-sexual harassment training regularly. Employees can further understand what acts fall under it and what they can do to prevent others from committing them. It’s also best to include the available report channels they can file a complaint in and the processes they have to go through.
Aside from that, gender sensitivity talks are a great addition to anti-sexual harassment training. Here, you open up a discourse in which employees can understand what their colleagues of the opposite sex go through and develop empathy for all groups in the workplace.
3. Create a harassment-free office alongside your employees
Equipped with empathy and acquired information from anti-sexual harassment training, you can enlist the help of your employees to prevent harassment in the workplace.
Since you can’t be in all places at once, your employees can be active bystanders who can help prevent instances of harassment. For example, they can call out an employee making offensive remarks toward a co-worker. They can also help the victims by reporting on their behalf, especially if they are afraid to do so. It takes a community to create a harassment-free work environment.
4. Have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment
Even with regular anti-sexual harassment training, sexual harassment may still occur in the office. Because of this, you have to back up your stance with a zero-tolerance policy.
Adopting a zero-tolerance policy and sticking to it can help deter those plotting to commit sexual harassment. For this, you must clearly define what sexual harassment is and that wrongdoers will be punished or fired accordingly. You must also include the procedure for filing sexual harassment cases that your employees can easily understand.
5. Make sure there are reporting procedures in place
In line with the previous point, having a reporting procedure can help you organize the concerns accordingly. You can take action immediately and start your investigation on the matter. Moreover, make sure that different reporting channels are available and that employees clearly understand the steps.
6. Handle all concerns of sexual harassment promptly and seriously
This goes hand-in-hand with adopting a zero-tolerance policy. By tackling these cases promptly and seriously, you show possible offenders that you mean business.
It entails that once you receive a complaint, you should get on top of it and investigate as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Doing so can make victims feel heard and encourage others to come forward and report their sexual harassment experiences in the workplace.
7. Give victims of sexual harassment support and protection
Victims of sexual harassment can be vulnerable and afraid. They may be fearful of the threats and dangers of reporting, especially if their offenders are their supervisors or managers. Make sure that your policy provides support and protection to them. It should include the non-tolerance of those who intimidate or bring harm to people who file a sexual harassment report.
Aside from this, you can consult with a sexual harassment lawyer for victims if they ever decide to take the incident to court. This reassures them that you are serious about anti-sexual harassment in the office and that victims can always reach out to you for help.
8. Proceed with transparency
Although it’s vital to protect the confidentiality of the harassed employee, you should also make the case and investigation transparent to a degree.
Being transparent with your process encourages other employees who have been harassed to report such cases as they will know how the process works and what you can do to resolve it. It also serves as a powerful deterrent for those plotting to do malicious acts.
9. Take a proactive approach to address sexual harassment cases
Another thing you can do to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace is to be proactive. Since victims are afraid and may not report the incident, take the initiative to investigate and report such instances.
You can hold employee engagement surveys about this. Having 1-on-1’s with employees is also a great way to investigate. For example, you can ask them if they’ve experienced or seen incidents of sexual harassment incidents and if they’ve reported it or not. With this, you can gain insights to address the problem better.
10. Regularly review your company’s sexual harassment policy
Taking a proactive approach also entails a continuous review of your company’s sexual harassment policy. Over time, circumstances and the office dynamic can change. You may see an increase in incidents or other behaviors that constitute sexual harassment. With regular investigations, you can revise your company’s policy on sexual harassment accordingly.
Be an Ally
The #MeToo movement has brought the issue of sexual harassment and abuse to light. It has opened up a dialogue to discuss and fight against this social issue that most people face, especially in the workplace.
Sexual harassment is a serious matter and can lead to hefty costs. Organizations are responsible for creating a safe space for their employees. After all, a business setting is where professionals come in to do their jobs. They must act accordingly, and inappropriate and illegal actions such as sexual harassment have no place here or anywhere else for that matter.
If you’re looking for legal assistance on sexual harassment cases, you can reach out to our experts at Shegerian & Associates for a consultation.