Sexual harassment can feel like a minefield you do not want to bring up but following this avoidance strategy will only lead to more issues.
We all know that sexual harassment is illegal in any situation, yet it is still scarily prevalent in the workplace. Part of the reason for this may be that many people do not understand what this type of harassment actually is and how it works. Also, business leaders often do not take enough steps to prevent it.
With a Washington Post–ABC News Poll in 2017 finding 54 percent of the women surveyed had received unwanted sexual advances they deemed inappropriate, it’s clear that this issue is a big one and not something any of us can ignore.
In 2021, no matter the size of your venture and your role in an organization, it is vital for you to be aware of your and other people’s rights and learn exactly what is and isn’t allowed within a workplace (and beyond). Here is what you need to know today and some tips for preventing sexual harassment on the job.
Get Clear on What Constitutes Sexual Harassment
Ensure you and other business leaders clearly understand what sexual harassment is. This phrase refers to any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that makes the other person(s) feel intimidated, humiliated, or offended, where the reaction is considered reasonable under the circumstances.
Sexual harassment can take different forms, too, such as sexually explicit pictures, texts, emails, posters, etc., or intrusive questions about someone’s private life or body. It can include staring or leering, unwanted date invitations or sexual requests, and sexually suggestive insults, comments, taunts, or jokes.
Plus, unwelcoming touching, like hugging, kissing, or brushing up against someone, can constitute harassment, as can unnecessary familiarity and any inappropriate advances that occur digitally, such as via apps or social media sites. Furthermore, behaviours considered criminal offences according to the law can be characterized as sexual harassment. Such acts include physical or sexual assault, stalking, indecent exposure, and obscene communications.
Another point to note is that any of the above behaviours do not have to be repeated or continuous to be labelled illegal. One-off incidents are just as much an issue as ongoing ones. If you’re unsure whether incidences fall under the sexual harassment banner, speak with a legal firm specializing in this area, such as Halunen Law.
Put Clear, Detailed Policies and Processes in Place for Your Entire Workforce
Next, create some clear, detailed policies and processes for everyone in your team to follow regarding safety in the workplace. It’s a good idea for the documents you create to feature statements about your organization’s stance on sexual harassment alongside clearly worded explanations of the term, as well as some helpful, specific examples of the wrong types of choices people might make. State distinctly that sexual harassment is against the law, too.
Provide your workers with some ideas of the places and times where sexual harassment can occur. We generally think it always happens in an office or warehouse but remind people that inappropriate behaviour may also happen on field trips, at work parties, conferences, and trade shows, and inside company vehicles.
In your policy, mention the firm’s objectives regarding sexual harassment and its prevention. Note the consequences for anyone who breaches what you have laid out, too. Note the responsibilities of all managers and team members relating to this topic and tell people how they can make a complaint about issues, seek advice, and support, or take other next steps. Make processes as easy and confidential for anyone who wants to report an incident as possible.
Plus, it is not enough to simply design policies and process and leave it at that. You must be sure all your team, including remote and casual workers and external contractors, as appropriate, have read the documents and signed to say they understand the information contained within.
Lastly, train your workforce to reduce the likelihood that problems arise. Do some research, and you will find many sexual harassment training activities you can run in-house or hire external people to facilitate for you. Have anyone who is in a supervisory or management position run through training sessions annually. These should be conducted separately from employee programs. You must educate leaders on identifying sexual harassment, handling complaints, and making employees feel as safe as possible.
In employee-based training, have workers learn about sexual harassment in more detail, and their personal rights and responsibilities. Explain to them how managers and the business are responsible and what they can and cannot do. Answer questions so everyone completes their training with clarity about every aspect.
Sexual harassment can feel like a minefield you do not want to bring up but following this avoidance strategy will only lead to more issues. Instead, do your research, lead by example, make it obvious that negative behaviour has consequences, and take immediate action against perpetrators if and when needed. Taking these steps will help you create a safer company culture for everyone.