Six Components of an Effective Sexual Harassment Policy
Today’s employment environment is increasing in complexity as evidenced by the ever-growing body of law, at state and federal levels, designed to protect employees in the workplace.
Since the 1960s, numerous laws have been forwarded to protect workers from various forms of discrimination related to race, color, religion, sex or national origin. More specific laws have been enacted regarding equal pay; age, pregnancy, and disability discrimination; and to protect the employment of those who are serving or have served in the military.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, is considered landmark legislation that addresses the most fundamental elements of discrimination. Title VII of this act bars discrimination in all HR activities and specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and thus falls under Title VII. Sexual harassment is defined as, “unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in the working environment.” (Snell and Bohlander 112)
Even in today’s more enlightened workplaces, sexual harassment issues remain a top and costly issue with which to contend. The impact of these violations can be far reaching. They can damage the reputations of individuals and impact their families and even future employment prospects.
They can harm productivity and create tension in other parts of the company, adversely affecting the overall culture. And, they can damage the corporate brand — how a company is perceived in the hearts and minds of their customers — something that’s hard to monetize but one of the most valued aspects of a business. Furthermore, today, with instantaneous and unbridled communications, unwanted media attention can quickly escalate an issue to the point of creating a costly public relations crisis.
That being said, implementing preventative measures are the best way to reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment claims. Employers required to comply with Title VII and its requirements should institute a sexual harassment policy which will provide the foundation for creating a work environment that, instead, fosters creativity, collaboration and community.
Instituting such a policy will serve several purposes:
- It provides a framework to communicate the law to employees.
- It promotes the company culture by establishing expectations and requirements around employee behavior in the workplace.
- It supports the values of the company and the type of work environment management desires to foster.
An effective sexual harassment policy includes six basic components as outlined by authors Bohlander and Snell in their book, Managing Human Resources.
1. Create a policy. A sexual harassment policy should be drawn up and carefully reviewed by both human resource and legal professionals to make sure it’s in compliance with state and federal laws. The policy should be incorporated into the employee handbook or policy manual and posted online where employees access other company-related information.
Policies are an important building block of communicating corporate culture and as such, it’s vitally important that top leadership give it their stamp of approval. This might be in the form of a statement or even a video explaining their support of the policy to create a work environment aligned with the company vision, mission and values. Specifically this policy, and its enforcement, will serve to create, maintain and sustain a work environment that fosters creativity, collaboration and community.
2. Train and train some more. It’s not enough to simply hand new and current employees a copy of the policy. Most people need guidance or a framework so that they know what is expected of them — what is allowed and not allowed. In today’s diverse workplaces, where there’s a mix of cultures, beliefs, backgrounds, and ages, it’s important to make sure everyone understands the rules of engagement.
People do better when they know better. Training is the tool to make that happen. It’s management’s responsibility, and specifically that of the human resources leadership, to create training around its policies, including sexual harassment. This training should include a review of the law and the consequences of violating the law. Training videos, case studies and even role playing can create learning experiences that will not only heighten awareness, but also teach and reinforce important concepts for managers and employees alike.
3. Create procedures for reporting violations of the sexual harassment policy. The procedures should be clearly outlined as to the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved. Clear guidance, timelines, as well as details on how to access and file claims should be easily accessible to the employee.
4. Take it seriously and take action. Employees must be confident that, if and when they make a sexual harassment claim, it will be handled professionally by management. Management must take precautions to safeguard the privacy of the individuals involved, handle the issue in a timely manner, and ensure that the issue is dealt with objectively. Thorough documentation and handling of the issue, in compliance with federal and other laws, is mandatory.
5. Resolve the issue. If an employee’s claim is deemed valid, management must take disciplinary action. Depending upon the seriousness of the issue, it can entail anything from additional training, to firing the offending employee.
6. Follow up. It’s not enough to go through a checklist of “To Do’s” when it comes to sexual harassment claims. Cases need continued follow-up to ensure all parties remain in compliance.
They say that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By implementing an effective sexual harassment policy, management will be taking the steps to guide workplace behaviors in a direction that fosters a safe and respectful working environment.
Furthermore, creating, actively supporting and training around this important workplace issue will instill confidence in employees that management supports their legal right to enjoy a workplace free from sexual harassment. Instituting, communicating and enforcing a sexual harassment policy will set the right tone and expectations that not only support the company culture, but also represent its corporate values.
Snell, Scott, and George W. Bohlander. “Step One: Mission, Vision, and Values.” Managing Human Resources. Mason, OH: South-Western, 2013. 47. Print.
Bohlander, George, W. and Scott Snell. “Highlights in HRM 3: Basic Components of an Effective Sexual Harassment Policy.” Managing Human Resources. Mason, OH: South-Western, 2010. 119. Print.
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