Protecting Your Business Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
“Casting couch” doesn’t seem to be such an archaic term anymore, does it? If anything, the last few months have shown us that sexual harassment is not just a Hollywood phenomenon. But, it took a worldwide #MeToo campaign and celebrity support for this effort at the 2018 Grammy Awards and Oscars to get people talking about it. From Harvey Weinstein to Larry Nassar and now Steve Wynn, women are speaking up even about people we would have considered untouchable a few months ago.
We Live in Interesting Times
In the wake of all these revelations, a November 2017 article in the Independent stated that powerful men have been trying to silence abused women since the Medieval Times. In fact, the article goes so far as to quote the Bible to show how men have tried to police women since time immemorial. And, they were largely successful till now.
It is social media that has finally given voice to women, says a similar November 2017 article by Praxis Legal Solutions. The article goes on to say, “Social media platforms have made public a critical mass of testimony to bad behavior that simply cannot be ignored.”
With the ancient Chinese curse coming true and bringing us really interesting times to live in, business owners need to, now more than ever before, ensure that they have a safe workplace, with the right sexual harassment policies in place. You not only need to protect vulnerable employees, you also need to protect your business, after all.
Protection Against Sexual Harassment
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment refers to any “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” It can also include offensive remarks about a person’s gender, the EEOC says. And, if the conduct is such that it creates a hostile work environment or leads to “tangible employment action,” including promotion, firing, hiring or even demotion of an employee, the individual can file a sexual harassment claim.
It is the employer’s legal obligation to ensure that the workplace is a safe environment, not just physically but also in terms of sexual harassment. This means that you, as a business owner, need to ensure that you have a well-defined anti-harassment policy that is well publicized within the company and effectively enforced. This policy should also include a process for complaints being lodged and all such complaints being appropriately investigated.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits not just gender discrimination but sexual harassment and discrimination due to race, nationality, religion and more. Apart from this federal law, each state has its own laws against sexual harassment. The legal obligation to put in place effective anti-sexual harassment policies applies to any business that employs 15 or more people, including state and local government bodies. The federal law also applies to all employment agencies, labor organizations and federal government bodies.
It is also important to train all employees, including supervisors and managers, with training sessions being held at least on an annual basis. These sessions should inform employees about what is considered sexual harassment, their right to a harassment-free workplace, the complaint procedure and the company policies related to sexual harassment. Managers and supervisors, apart from being familiarized with all of this, also need to know how complaints are to be dealt with and what their responsibilities are in this regard, says an article by Nolo.
Creating a harassment-free work environment is only good for business. If you fail to create a safe workplace, employee morale and productivity will be low, while claims and lawsuits will be high. So, don’t become another statistic among all the sexual harassment claims being filed these days. Do your homework!