Rarely a day goes by without us hearing/reading about an act of sexual harassment being reported in practically every type of workplace imaginable. Those recent Hollywood and Capitol Hill headline-making scandals serve only as attention-getting surrogates for what has been occurring in many other workplaces.
According to a late summer 2017 Pew Research Center poll, twenty-two percent of employed women said they had personally experienced sexual harassment at work.
Furthermore, in an October 2017 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 30 percent of women said they had experienced unwanted sexual advances from a man who worked at the same company as they did, and 23 percent of those women said they had experienced this from a man who had influence over their work situation.
You may think your company does not have a problem. However, keep in mind that 70 percent of workers who experience sexual harassment from their supervisors, coworkers, or customers, say they never reported it.
So, what is an employer to do?
Here are a few suggestions I offer for your consideration:
- Be prepared. Develop a clear policy defining what harassment is and what it isn’t. Seek the advice and guidance of your attorney.
- Never ignore any accusations of harassment or misconduct. Naturally, such a report does not mean that the accuser is telling the truth, nor does it mean the person is untruthful.
- A witness should always be present when both the accuser and accused are interviewed.
- Conducting a fair and unbiased investigation is critical to achieving a successful resolution to a complaint of harassment. Experience is critical; too often, unskilled interviewers end up with inconclusive findings.
- While I am not qualified to offer legal advice, it is my opinion that every employer should recognize they are likely legally responsible for any acts of harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as firing, failure to promote or hire, or loss of wages. Furthermore, employers will likely be held liable for such acts of harassment by non-supervisory staff members and independent personnel or customers if the employer knew, or should have known, about the act of harassment and failed to take prompt appropriate corrective action.
- As I usually say in the majority of my articles … Prevention is Key! Once those anti-harassment policies and related procedures are in place, communicate and distribute them across the organization so as to ensure that no one is left unaware. Be sure to include: how harassment incidents are to be reported and to whom. Distribute to and review those policies with all new hires promptly, and also review with all employees at least on an annual basis. A sign-off on the review is also highly recommended. $