Over the last year, the #MeToo movement has exposed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace and encouraged victims to speak out against their harassers. The call for accountability indicates a substantial cultural shift—and companies should proactively review and update their policies accordingly.
According to a recent study by XpertHR, the majority of companies already have sexual harassment policies in place. However, only 38 percent planned to update their policies, while just 29 percent intended to provide employee training in 2018. Even fewer (18%) said they would offer bystander training, which helps employees know how to respond when they witness harassment in the office. Human resource departments need to ensure their harassment policies are up to date and that supervisors are properly trained to prevent and respond to these issues. The failure to do so puts businesses at an increased risk for liability and the expenses incurred by legal proceedings.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines recommend these key elements for strong anti-harassment policies:
- Clear explanation of prohibited conduct;
- Assurance that employees who file complaints or participated in an investigation are protected against retaliation;
- Clear description of the complaint process;
- Assurance that the employer will protect confidentiality to the extent possible;
- Complaint process that provides a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation; and
- Assurance that immediate and appropriate corrective action will be taken when an investigation determines harassment has occurred.
Employers may also need to re-examine their policies concerning confidentiality agreements in harassment settlements, as such practices may result in concealing problematic behavior.
Employees should be adequately trained to prevent sexual harassment and informed of their right to file a complaint when needed. While most respondents in the XpertHR survey reported confidence in their employer’s ability to be fair in investigating sexual harassment claims, it’s important for senior management to lead by example in establishing a company culture that supports victims and holds offenders accountable. iBi
Visit eeoc.gov for additional guidance on sexual harassment policies.