Implementing Effective Sexual Harassment Policies in the Workplace

In the wake of sexual harassment claims made against Fox News chief Roger Ailes, it is important for businesses of all sizes to understand the importance of developing and implementing a sexual harassment policy that protects both employees and employers in the workplace.

However, ending workplace sexual harassment is more than a simple piece of paper on a wall or in an employment handbook; it’s a statement of shared beliefs that seek to allow anyone to pursue their chosen careers without feeling the threat and pressure of workplace sexual harassment. Implementing effective sexual harassment policies begins with this attitude, and it begins at the top. Consider the following processes and guidelines when creating your company’s sexual harassment policy and procedures.

1. Employer responsibilities. The responsibility of keeping sexual harassment out of the workplace falls on the employer, and because of this, executives and leadership should be involved in drafting the policies. Partnering with human resources, they should be at the lead in creating harassment policies, sending regular reminders of expectations, and making sure the policies are upheld. By law, employers are required to have a system in place to prevent and deal with harassment, and can be held liable for harassment that occurs in their workplace regardless of whether they were aware of it.

“Employees should feel that they are protected simply from reading the sexual harassment policy.”

2. Employee responsibilities. Implementing the policies, while beginning at the top, must be a shared commitment throughout the company. Making sure all employees know and are aware of the company’s policies is imperative to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. All new hires should receive a copy of the company’s policy, acknowledge it in writing, and complete training. Employees should feel encouraged to be aware of behavior that could affect their work environment negatively, and know when to take action.

3. Policy guidelines. Employees should feel that they are protected simply from reading the sexual harassment policy. They should also be protected against retaliation and feel comfortable reporting concerns. Procedures on these matters must be outlined in the policy so that employees are aware of their rights. Additionally, a company’s sexual harassment policy should be a fluid document. As time goes on and unique circumstances arise, such as development of the Internet, social media and mobile devices, policies should be updated correspondingly. When they are revised, the correct procedures should be followed to educate the entire workplace on the changes.

4. Practice guidelines. Sexual harassment policies become meaningless when allegations of sexual harassment are brought to light. Policies that are effective show their efficacy through practice, and this is done through a strong commitment to responding to concerns in a timely manner, conducting thorough investigations, and serious consequences in cases when evidence shows sexual harassment exists.

Although not every incident and attitude toward harassment will suddenly end, thoroughly written sexual harassment policies can save a business from a legal headache. Prevention is key to keeping a business sexual-harassment free, and it can be done by developing an effective policy that is understood by all employees, and a commitment to implementing it when it is needed.


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