Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile working environment.” This could include making inappropriate sexual jokes, requesting sexual favors or dates, spreading personal rumors about others, inappropriately touching another, intentionally blocking someone, using derogatory gestures, sharing sexual photos with others, and more.

Of course, not all sexual harassment is sexually suggestive. If you are being harassed based on your gender, it would be considered sexual harassment. An example would be a woman working in a male-dominated field receiving harsher criticism or abuse than the men regardless of performance. In order for any of these actions to be considered illegal, these behaviors need to be either severe or pervasive. For the most part, they would need to be done repeatedly over time, even when disinterest or discomfort has been expressed. The exception would be a more serious event, such as rape or attempted rape, which would warrant punishment immediately.

How to Handle a Sexual Harassment Claim

Handling any sexual harassment claim begins before a complaint is even filed. Openly posting and informing all employees of policies will let everyone know upfront that all complaints will be investigated, and harassment is not tolerated. Being proactive in dealing with sexual harassment will help to ensure it does not become a cultural norm, which is becoming increasingly more important to Generation Z and Millennial employees in the workforce. Those who step forward to file a claim may find it difficult to do so, even knowing the company has their backs, so provide everyone with various filing options. One specific chain of communication won’t do much good if the complaint must go through the individual being accused.

Once a complaint has been filed, plan a thorough investigation based on the initial information received. Conversing with the employee who filed the claim is vital, and they will want to know they are safe from retaliation, but should any occur, to notify you immediately. Listen to them with care and be sure to note specific dates, times, situations, witnesses, and other relevant information. Meet with those who witnessed the event for more perspectives. Speak separately with the person being accused, being careful to provide him or her with the same respect. When coming to a decision, it is best to consult with a lawyer to ensure the information you have received warrants the decided punishment to prevent potential litigation.

All aspects of the investigation should be done promptly in order to prevent more issues for the employee from arising and protecting the company from legal action.

Receiving Honest Feedback

As stated, it can be difficult for some to step forward, so sexual harassment may go unreported, affecting turnover and team morale. Utilizing anonymous, third-party surveys are a great way to get open and honest feedback from current and exiting employees. Stay interviews provide your HR department with up-to-date data on various aspects of your business, and any unethical or illegal behavior reported would be sent right away as a Red Flag Alert, allowing it to be addressed quickly. Our ExitRight® Employee Exit Interview can also help you receive honest feedback from anyone leaving the company, perhaps bringing unknown sexual harassment issues to light that would allow you to address the problem before affecting others.

No matter the approach, investigating and addressing sexual harassment claims quickly and thoroughly is vital. If you’re searching for a new way to provide employees to share their honest feedback, contact us today to schedule a demo of our survey products.