Going to work can be physically and emotionally taxing, with workers frequently facing unstable work schedules, unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions, and an often-hostile social environment.
Any of the multitudes of women who have recently stepped forward to share their accounts of being groped and otherwise harassed by men in political life, in entertainment and media might have told us as much.
This time, however, this account of working conditions in the U.S. is based on a survey of more than 3,000 workers by the RAND Corp., Harvard Medical School and UCLA.
Nearly one in five workers – a share the study called “disturbingly high” – say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, which can include sexual harassment and bullying.
It’s obvious we have a problem, right?
No-harassment policies and complaint lines are just not enough. Sensitivity training isn’t doing the job. Policies regulating electronic communications also have come up short.
So, what can a business owner do? How can you protect your employees from harassment, not to mention your company from crippling liability lawsuits? Here are a few risk-mitigation tactics – as we refer to them in the insurance world – to consider:
Start by reviewing your sexual harassment policy. It should contain the following items:
- A clear statement on what behaviors, both verbal and physical, constitute sexual harassment, stressing that the company has a strict no-tolerance policy.
- Language encouraging employees to bring forth claims of harassment so that the company can investigate, take appropriate action and take necessary steps to prevent future harassment.
- Guidelines for how to report sexual harassment.
- A complaint procedure and a response to the complaints procedure for management personnel.
Here are some other things to consider in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Provide employees with at least two separate resources for reporting sexual harassment complaints. This protects the employer in case the alleged harasser is the employee’s direct supervisor.
- Designate a female and male staff member from human resources to receive sexual harassment claims, preferably individuals with experience in dealing with discrimination and harassment.
- Outline in your policy that employees found guilty of sexual harassment will be subject to disciplinary action, including termination. The disciplinary action should ensure that the victim feels unthreatened once again. In addition, preventive action should be taken to ensure that a recurrence of the harassment does not occur.
- Discipline for sexual harassment should be as severe as the actions that took place. Punishments should also be consistent for similar actions by different harassers.
- Emphasize that victims will receive no backlash or repercussions if they report sexual harassment. Do not punish the victim for the harassment by removing him or her from their job, department or role within the company.
None of the above, unfortunately, really help in teaching people how to behave.
As a business owner or C-Suite executive, you’ll need to set the tone and make it clear that you expect professionalism from every employee. No shop, factory floor or construction site is too crude to demonstrate professionalism.
Finally, all else failing, you could ask your supervisors to imagine standing before a jury to defend their actions by explaining that “you had to be there” or “I was just playing.” It just doesn’t work.
Michael Kline is a CCIG Vice President. Reach him at MichaelK@thinkccig.com or 720-212-2042.