Since 1998, sexual harassment policies have been based on legal protection and risk management to avoid liability in a lawsuit. But it’s 2019 and #MeToo has taken the world by storm. We’ve learned that policies that previously worked in the workplace may not truly be enough to create a safe and comfortable working environment for all employees.
Sexual harassment policies must be updated with a focus on respect, transparency and decency in the workplace. These policies can be broken down into three categories: clarifying and expanding upon what constitutes harassing behaviors, creating an easy-to-use complaint procedure, and taking consistent disciplinary action in response to violations.
Sexual Harassment, Defined
Sexual harassment is subjective in the sense that an action may be considered inappropriate depending on how it is perceived by the recipient. How the victim feels and how the harasser’s actions affect the victim have priority.
Examples of conduct that may constitute sexual harassment include:
- Sexual pranks, teasing, jokes
- Verbal abuse of a sexual nature
- Physical touching of a sexual nature
- Giving sexually suggestive gifts
- Making sexually suggestive gestures
- Posting sexually suggestive pictures
Outline the scope of the sexual harassment policy. Explain who may be victims and who may be harassers. What if the incident occurs outside of the work building? Or outside of work hours? Answer questions like these so victims know they can seek help if the incident happens after work or outside of the office, and employees will know exactly what kind of behaviors will not be tolerated.
Complaint Procedures Should Be Clear and Comprehensive
Explain how sexual harassment allegations are handled both in investigations and appeals.Every situation will differ, but provide enough information to be open and transparent with employees.
If a complaint is made, or there is reason to believe there is sexual harassment occurring:
- Collect as many details as possible
- Take immediate action (if the allegation warrants)
- Choose an appropriate investigator
- Conduct interviews with witnesses, the harasser and other related parties
- Gather and document physical and digital evidence
- Come to a conclusion about the allegations
If the investigation proves that the allegations are credible, then take immediate corrective action. Depending on the severity of the sexual misconduct, corrective measures range from a single verbal warning to immediate dismissal and even criminal penalties.Once the investigation has been closed, follow-up with the victim ensure the issue has been resolved.
Disciplinary Action is Key
Reiterate that sexual harassment is taken very seriously by the company and policy violations will not be tolerated. Explain the disciplinary process for your company. For example, a first-time harasser who made inappropriate jokes in passing may receive a verbal warning. Second-time harassers may be demoted or transferred.
The disciplinary action process should ensure fairness and consistency across all incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Incorporate the sexual harassment policy anywhere and everywhere possible. Display it prominently in the new employee handbook. Redistribute it regularly to all employees and managers. Provide a refresher on the policy during staff meetings. Have managers speak about the policy on occasion. It should be kept fresh in everyone’s minds. No one should be able to use the excuse, “I didn’t know!”
You do not want your company to be known for sexual harassment on and off the premises. Insurance claims can severely damage your business’s bottom line and your reputation among employees, potential employees, and customers and clients alike. In addition to taking proactive measures to eliminate sexual harassment, make sure to protect your business with a Delaware Business Insurance program that includes employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) for any employment-related claims.
About IFS Insurance
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