There are several steps that should be taken to prevent sexual harassment within an organization. In fact, an organization can nearly make itself “judgment proof” if it takes the following five steps:
• Establish a sexual harassment prevention policy.
• Conduct mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for all existing employees.
• Provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for all new employees.
• Provide permanent reminders of the policy (in the form of a poster, posted on all employee bulletin boards).
• Provide intermittent reminders of the policy (in the form of a paycheck stuffer) two times per year.
Taking these steps demonstrates to the federal Department of Labor and any state human rights commission that the organization is practicing comprehensive sexual harassment prevention. This demonstrates the company’s seriousness when it comes to providing an environment free of sexual harassment.
Even if an organization practices comprehensive sexual harassment prevention, there still may be allegations of sexual harassment. When or if this happens, an organization takes on new liability.
Up to the point of an allegation being made, the organization or company can say (and easily defend itself) that it has done everything reasonably within its power to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. But once the allegation is made, the organization has the legal obligation to conduct a thorough and timely investigation. Thorough means thorough—the alleged victim, the alleged perpetrator and any potential witnesses must be competently questioned so that management obtains a clear picture of what happened.
The other element of responsibility revolves around the issue of timeliness. The investigation of the allegation must begin within 72 hours of management receiving notice. Once management has a clear picture of what happened, then a proper and appropriate response to the facts must be made.
The organization must make a proper and appropriate response. What does this really mean? As far as the government is concerned, employers cannot do too much to protect their employees. This almost suggests that employers can overreact with approval. They, the employers, can do too little (they can underreact) and that can get them in trouble, but they can’t do too much.
With this in mind, what is a proper and appropriate response if sexual harassment is found to have occurred? What this suggests is that management should take a very strong stand in the face of sexual harassment. The organization, to protect both itself and the victim, cannot underreact.
If you have or if you discover sexual harassment in your workplace, contact me and let me assist you.