It’s amazing how quickly our social expectations are evolving on the topic of sexual harassment. Not so long ago, off color comments, body groping and other objectionable behavior was tolerated, particularly when committed by powerful people. All that is changing and employers need to adapt. Here are three suggested revisions for employers reviewing their sexual harassment policy and training.
Every employer I worked for insisted on annual sexual harassment training for the staff. But most managers never showed up for the training or left early. That’s unfortunate, since the most common form of sexual harassment is still male bosses harassing women subordinates.
But accusing the boss of inappropriate behavior is the fastest path to ruining a woman’s career. That’s why Harvey Weinstein wasn’t publicly accused of sexual harassment until after he lost his status as a Hollywood power broker. Employers can avoid a Weinstein moment by requiring managers to participate in training and to set the example on what behavior is acceptable.
One employer I worked for used the same training video year after year until employees stood in front of the screen, miming the actors and repeating the dialogue. The scenarios were blindingly obvious, like the woman who gets fired after refusing to date her boss. Everyone got their ticket punched for the yearly training and no one learned anything.
Training materials must include realistic scenarios of everyday occurrences. Training must also acknowledge that deciding what is harassment can be subjective. I once worked with a man who always spoke in double entendres. Most the women in the office claimed that they were outraged, but they continued flirting with him. Was he harassing them or not? That’s a much more realistic scenario than the boss dating his secretary cliché.
Clear Complaint Process
Deciding whether to complain begins with actually reading the relevant section of the employee handbook. The relevant section is usually buried in a long paragraph at the end of the anti-harassment policy section of the handbook. It may not be clear whether the complaint process applies to other situations, including the separate sexual harassment policy.
Assuming the harassed employee decides to make a complaint, she (or he) will immediately have two fears. What if the process requires reporting to your supervisor and that’s the harasser? How does the person complaining avoid retaliation? To be effective, the complaint process should be easy to read, have alternative paths for reporting a complaint, and ensure confidentiality as much as possible.
Our society is evolving. Employers need to move quickly to adapt.
If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.
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