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6 Steps to Help Employers Prevent Workplace Sexual Harassment

Prominent sexual harassment and assault claims are appearing in the news every single day. Understanding that these can be sensitive issues, and appreciating the good which can result from re-examining corporate practices, we thought it would be appropriate to discuss policy strategies that protect both employees and employers.

Employees often act in accordance with the standards that they believe their employer encourages or allows. This idea is based on the principle that we “are products of our environments.” Regarding sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, acquired or accepted behavioral practices can easily foster a work environment that tolerates harassment and violence.

Ultimately, it takes only one employee’s act (or even implied act) of harassment or violence, absent an employer redress, to encourage a workplace culture of harassment and violence. Like a rumor or seasonal flu, this harmful ethos can quickly spread throughout an organization.

A comprehensive policy that includes education and training can help significantly in discouraging sexual harassment or violence in the workplace. But, to be truly comprehensive, this policy should fully enforce prevention. Upholding this policy requires maintaining a tenor, a decorum, and protocol that kills toxic environments at the roots.

First, Develop a Clear Policy

Employers should first define what constitutes harassment and violence in the workplace so that they can develop a clear and effective policy and training program to prevent or punish offenses.

According to the HR Daily Advisor, an online human resources tool provided by Business & Legal Resources, there are two general types of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo: Perhaps the most overt type of sexual harassment, this typically involves a superior or manager who promises benefits, such as a higher position or better pay, only if the employee provides a sexual favor. It might also occur should the superior hold veto power over the proposed firing or suspension of an employee. Basically, it is leveraged by the hierarchical power of an employee over another or others.
  • A hostile work environment: This type of harassment can unfold between all levels of employees, not necessarily just between a superior and a subordinate. Hostile work environments arise when an employee indecently touches another employee, makes a sexually offensive joke, exhibits an inappropriate décor, or insults via sexual innuendo or physical gesture—in general, any expression or contact by one employee that offends or harasses another employee.

It’s also prudent to recognize in your policies that sexual harassment does not only occur in one direction (male towards female). In Wayne County, Michigan, a sheriff’s officer sued the county law enforcement agency because it ignored his original complaint of harassment by a female boss, according to a Detroit Free Press article. The article also noted that hundreds of men nationwide are filing similar complaints.

The case reminds all HR departments that employers can be liable if they knew or should have known that harassment was taking place and failed to take the necessary measures. This case also reminds employers that their policy’s language should be gender neutral regarding.

6 Practical Steps for Policy Adherence

So, how do you foster a work environment that discourages sexual harassment and violent behavior beyond the employee’s handbook? Here are six important steps that employers can take:

  1. Make your anti-harassment policies and procedures evident. Post summaries of them near the printer or copier, in the employee break room, or on bulletin boards. If these policies are ubiquitous, they will always be top of mind. Ensure your postings include in plain language what to do in the event of harassment or violence and how to file a complaint.
  2. Offer managers and supervisors anti-harassment training periodically. Follow up with refreshers and retraining.
  3. In accordance with privacy laws and expectations, monitor questionable behaviors among your employees, including images on computer monitors and the types of posters or pictures they post in their work areas. Remind employees in meetings to be sensitive about displaying anything that may offend others, sexually or otherwise.
  4. Ensure that employee gatherings and parties outside the office maintain a decorum of respect. It’s great for morale to gather informally and loosen the collars a bit, but try to retain a degree of professionalism, even at off-site functions.
  5. If a complaint is lodged, listen to it completely and investigate promptly. Moreover, do not tolerate any retaliatory treatment against the person filing a complaint.
  6. When in doubt, defer to legal expertise with cases involving harassment or violence.

Beyond the legal and moral harms of sexual harassment or assault at the workplace, it makes good business sense to adhere to strict protocols in these arenas, as a hostile work environment is not conducive to productivity, creativity or career longevity.

If you have further questions or concerns about how to create and enforce sustainable policies that help create healthy, safe company cultures, please reach out to us below. Preventing harassment or violence in Michigan workplaces is paramount to achieving our own company mission of adding value and improving the quality of life for the individuals, families, and communities we serve.



December 7, 2018




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