How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

More than one-third of all employees have experienced some form of harassment at work, and roughly 75 percent of these complaints are sexual in nature. Because sexual harassment in the workplace is so common and can cause extreme distress among those who experience it, you should take the necessary steps to prevent it. Your goal should be to provide a work environment where all employees are safe and welcome.

You can do this by fostering a culture that promotes sexual harassment education and encourages employees to speak up if they experience or witness it. This will discourage more people from engaging in such behavior and give employees a clear process to follow should sexual harassment occur.

So, what can you do to prevent sexual harassment in the first place and make it easy for employees to come forward if it happens regardless of your efforts to prevent it? Here’s what to know.

What Is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment characterizes all unwelcome sexual behavior, such as inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature or unwanted physical advances. This can include:

  • Demands for sexual favors, whether in general or in return for advantages or promotions.
  • Telling inappropriate jokes or stories about sex or with sexual connotations.
  • Unwanted touching, kissing, or other physical contact or sexual gestures.
  • Sending emails, letters, or other correspondence that include sexual content or images.

Sexual harassment is not limited to acts that are sexual in nature. It is also against the law to make sex- or gender-related comments, such as derogatory remarks or jokes about one’s gender or gender identity.

The law doesn’t prevent one-off jokes or comments. It is prohibited when the behavior occurs regularly and creates a hostile work environment for your staff.

Legal Requirements for Sexual Harassment Training

Though the requirements for sexual harassment training vary from state to state, it is a good idea to have a comprehensive sexual harassment policy and training regimen in place. Federal, state, and local laws can vary, but having policies and training in place creates a safer work environment and can prevent legal issues that could result from a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Keep up on the requirements for your business and ensure you comply. It is beneficial to meet these regulations and take extra steps to reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. At the end of the day, you will never be able to catch everything beforehand, but knowing you’ve met the regulations and have gone beyond will help you avoid the legal trouble and repercussions that could arise should you choose to do the minimum or ignore the issue altogether. In short, it’s better to be safe and take more action than necessary versus falling short.

Best Practices for Sexual Harassment Training

Once you become familiar with the sexual harassment training requirements, how can you ensure your training is effective? Here are a few tips:

  • Make your sexual harassment training mandatory so all employees have the chance to learn about what sexual harassment in the workplace is and can better identify and avoid it.
  • Engage HR and leadership to set the tone and serve as an example of how seriously to take training.
  • Build a straightforward protocol for reporting and investigating sexual harassment claims.
  • Ensure every employee knows your policies and that repercussions are clear.
  • Schedule regular training to be sure each employee has the resources they need to understand the expectations of your workplace and the law.

Also, make sure your managers are kept up to date with the training and know how to spot and report any sexual misconduct. You want all mandates and processes to be clear and simple to implement.

How to Write an Effective Sexual Harassment Policy

Your sexual harassment policy should be extremely thorough and — most of all —clear. To enhance clarity, be sure to include definitions and examples. Each employee should be able to read the document and understand exactly what will happen if or when:

  • An employee has been accused or is accusing someone of sexual harassment.
  • HR receives the sexual harassment complaint. What will HR do, and will they keep the matter confidential?
  • A sexual harassment investigation is opened. Does HR talk to the claimant and accused or work with a third party to assess the situation?
  • The accused have enough evidence against them. Do you have a no-tolerance policy and issue a termination? Will they face suspension or be moved to another team? Is the consequence determined on a case-by-case basis?
  • A claimant feels the accused might retaliate. Do you have policies in place that will make employees feel safe to come forward?

Both the claimant and accused employees should know the exact steps your company will take in the event of a sexual harassment claim. The goal is to discourage employees from committing sexual harassment in the first place and encourage claimants to come forward. The best way to accomplish both is to have a clear policy that outlines how each claim will be handled.

Stamp Out Sexual Harassment in the Workplace — Before It Happens

The most effective sexual harassment prevention occurs when employees know exactly what constitutes sexual harassment and what will happen as a result. Take sexual harassment seriously and prevent other liabilities with expert hiring and management advice from Monster.

Legal Disclaimer:  This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.