Businesses work hard to recruit and develop the very best talent. The next step is helping them thrive and hopefully reach their potential, but this is only possible in a safe and welcoming environment. Here’s the bottom line: everyone deserves a workplace free from fear and abuse. How can businesses guarantee this? Creating a comprehensive and effective Sexual Harassment Policy is a great start.
Why You Need a Sexual Harassment Policy
81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to recent polling. The sad reality is, harassment happens to most employees, in most companies, at some point during their career. As an HR leader, it’s understandable to have faith in your team—you hired them, after all. But harassment in the workplace is an issue no business can afford to ignore.
Writing a Sexual Harassment Policy
A Sexual Harassment Policy should achieve a few different things. It’s first and foremost a compliance issue—you want to put down on paper exactly what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. However, it’s also about making clear your vision for a company culture where every employee feels welcome and secure. It’s a chance to establish a zero tolerance approach to harassment and let victims know they’ll be supported if they come forward.
Here’s what a Sexual Harassment Policy should include:
A Statement Affirming Your Commitment
Everyone in your company should read your Sexual Harassment Policy and when they do, they shouldn’t think that you’re just ticking a box. Emphasize that creating a workplace free from any harassment is a core company principle.
What Counts as Harassment?
Here’s where it gets tricky. Sexual harassment covers a broad range of actions, from unwanted physical contact to inappropriate jokes or messages. Often, an employee may not realize the behavior is inappropriate. Your policy should list all forms of behavior considered harassment. These apply even if an employee has no malicious intent. (During anti-harassment training, employees will be taught that behavior can be threatening and make colleagues uncomfortable even when it’s not intended.)
A Complaints Procedure
A compliance policy is only as good as its complaints procedure. Accusations should be taken seriously, acted upon immediately and all employees should be treated impartially. When a final judgement is made, it can’t be up for discussion. That’s why it’s so important that decisions (and the decision making process) be seen as fair by all parties involved.
The appropriate punishments in response to confirmed sexual harassment range broadly, depending on the exact nature of the incident(s). Sometimes, it might be enough just to warn an employee that their behavior wasn’t appropriate. In more serious cases, though, an official reprimand or termination may be required.
As with any complaints procedure, victims (and those who speak up to support them) need to know that speaking up doesn’t put them at risk. The accused can’t be allowed to lash out at their accuser. Interfering with the disciplinary process is grounds for termination.
Ultimately, the best laid plans of HR teams work only with manager buy-in. Managers are the link between the company as a whole and regular employees. They are the ones whose job it is to make sure employees understand and follow your policy. When a complaint is made, managers a usually the first responders. And, most importantly of all, they need to follow the rules themselves.
Paycor has put together a Sexual Harassment Prevention Checklist. Creating a Sexual Harassment Policy is essential, but it works best as part of a campaign of company communication and training.