With reports of sexual harassment claims in Hollywood, at media outlets and on Capitol Hill taking over the news lately, it seems like a good time to discuss preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s also important to note that these industries aren’t the only ones experiencing high levels of sexual harassment, and it’s quite possible other industries are experiencing even higher levels of sexual harassment. Retail and food service workers are not only very likely to fall victim to sexual harassment, they also may have a harder time reporting it.
The Columbian recently published an article entitled Harassment Common in Retail, Food Service: Research Finds 3 Times as Many Claims as in Higher Paying Fields. The article states that, according to reports from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collected between 2005 and 2015, about a quarter of sexual harassment complaints came from the service sector, which employs mostly low-wage, female workers. The article also discusses the fear of losing their job that people in low wage positions feel in reporting sexual harassment. As an employer, you are obligated by law to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment. But by not doing your part in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, you are also sacrificing productivity and employee morale in your business, not to mention putting your business at risk for lawsuits.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Before you can take appropriate measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, you must first be aware of what kind of behavior is considered sexual harassment. Here are the two main types of sexual harassment to watch out for:
1) Abuse of Power
The first type (and probably the most obvious), is the type that involves an abuse of power. An example of this is a situation in which a supervisor holds an aspect of someone’s job over their head, such as job security or a promotion. The employee in the position of power then makes sexual demands or sexual advances in return for ensuring the subordinate keeps their job or receives their promotion. The threat of taking away the subordinate’s job, promotion or income can be directly or indirectly implied by the employee in the position of power.
2) Offensive Work Environment
This type of sexual harassment can be easier to miss. Examples of this involve lewd jokes made by one employee to another, sending inappropriate emails with sexually offensive language or pictures to another coworker, or making derogatory, sexually offensive comments about customers in the presence of a coworker (or vice versa). In the age of the Internet, a sexual harassment complaint could even come from an employee accidentally viewing another employee’s inappropriate photos or other content on their work computer.
Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Once you are aware of what kind of behavior can result in a sexual harassment claim, you can take measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace:
1) Conduct sexual harassment training
To ensure the best chances of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, you must first make sure your employees are fully aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and that your business has a zero-tolerance policy against it. Clearly define all of this in your employee handbook. For the best results, also conduct (or have someone else conduct) sexual harassment training seminars for your employees. Explain in these seminars not only what sexual harassment is, also outline consequences for someone that engages in it, and what steps someone should take to report sexual harassment in the workplace.
2) Make sure your managers and supervisors take sexual harassment complaints seriously
All complaints of sexual harassment should be fully investigated and taken seriously. Make sure your managers and supervisors are trained on how to handle reports of sexual harassment by employees, and that they are aware of what signs of sexual harassment to watch out for in the workplace.
3) Have a foolproof process in place for handling sexual harassment complaints
Make sure employees know what to do when they experience sexual harassment, are aware of their rights, their options and that they feel comfortable asking for help in stopping and preventing future sexual harassment in the workplace. Make sure when you receive a sexual harassment complaint you immediately investigate it, make it clear no retaliatory behavior will be tolerated by the accused offender against the complainant, and take any action necessary to keep the situation from escalating.
Author: Jessica Cody
Jessica Cody, a native of Fairfield County, Connecticut, has a background in online marketing and public relations. Currently, she works at VHMNetwork LLC in the role of Marketing Analyst. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, where she studied Journalism and Political Science. She is also an avid runner with a passion for the outdoors.