Workplace sexual harassment has been banned for decades by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But #MeToo brought the problem to the fore, forcing a major cultural shift in attitudes. Employees no longer hesitate bringing forward a complaint and employers are scrambling to try to keep HR procedures current as well as ensuring that people at all levels in a company know what behavior will not be tolerated.
It’s not just high-profile entertainment industry figures and politicians being brought to account. We’ve heard of smaller technology companies, healthcare providers and manufacturers that are contending with a raft of allegations, mostly from women but also from men. Even large law firms – which you’d think would know better – are settling with more junior attorneys and support staff who have been victimized by sexual harassment.
There is a way to try warding off the problem before it starts. Organizations of all sizes in both the private and public sectors will benefit by providing workshops on what constitutes sexual harassment, how to prevent it from happening, and what to do if someone believes they’re a victim of it. All employees from C-suite executives to entry-level assistants should be schooled in what constitutes harassment, and supervisors taught what to do if an employee reports an incident.
Sexual harassment training workshops cover everything from the basics to an explanation of the legal issues involved, how an allegation can sidetrack or even ruin chances for promotion and a career, how to file a complaint and what to expect after an employee does so, and what a manager must do if someone says they’ve been harassed or assaulted.
For example, few workers know what actually constitutes harassment and assault. Some are obvious, others less apparent:
- A manager tells an employee their promotion or keeping the job depends on sleeping with them
- An employee is made uncomfortable by sexually-explicit jokes heard within earshot
- Someone has a habit of resting their hand on the shoulder of a co-worker as they speak; legally, this not only is harassment but might be considered assault which is a criminal offense
- Emails are sent to co-workers with sexually explicit language, jokes or images.
A training program would review all possible scenarios so that people are aware of how even an unintended act may be construed as harassment or assault.
Sexual Harassment Training Topics
Depending on the company or institution, programs can be tailored to cover topics ranging from the basics to more sophisticated subjects including:
- What Is Sexual Harassment and Assault: A Guideline for Employees, Supervisors and Executives
- Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
- Supervisor Responsibility If Sexual Harassment Is Alleged
- The Executive’s Role in Setting Company Culture Regarding Sexual Harassment
- How Employees Can File Sexual Harassment or Assault Complaints – And What Happens When You Do
- Sexual Harassment and Social Media – Inside and Outside of Work
- How to Respond and Investigate Sexual Harassment Complaints
At the same time, employee handbooks and manuals should be reviewed regularly to ensure that the information about sexual harassment is current, clear and concise. But perhaps most important, companies need to treat allegations seriously and respond promptly. This is an important and emerging issue for organizations where an ounce of prevention can be worth millions of dollars in cures.
Kristina Moris is president of The Washington Group and has over 30 years’ experience understanding workplace dynamics. Reach her by phone in New York at 646.912.9311 or Seattle at 206.284.4800.