Taking a Proactive Approach to Workplace Sexual Harassment
When the 60’s era drama Mad Men first aired, I became a faithful viewer each week. The characters were complex and the story lines compelling. That said, watching the main character on the show, advertising executive extraordinaire, Don Draper, self destruct by way of large quantities of alcohol, nicotine and illicit affairs became difficult to watch because I began to care for some of the fictional characters. As a result of no longer being able to suspend disbelief, I quit watching after season three. There was another disturbing aspect of Mad Men’s story line that I found unpleasant…the objectification of the women in the workplace. Many say this era was a simpler period in our history, but the show’s writers did a thorough job of illustrating how women were often treated in the workplace. Granted, Mad Men may be over dramatized, but as someone who joined the workforce in the late 80’s, I remember when overtly suggestive remarks or actions directed towards female co-workers (such as a gentle slap on the derriere) was considered acceptable, harmless flirting and nothing more. Fortunately, sexual harassment in the enlightened age of 2016 never occurs, right? Unfortunately, it does still happens today, but it’s often more subtle. Let’s look at a few ways sexual harassment occurs in the workplace today:
Sexual innuendo, which can include jokes, remarks about someone’s physical attributes or a humorous email of a sexual nature.
Offering a promotion or raise in exchange for “favors”.
Subtle physical harassment in the form of a hand on a shoulder, standing too close or offering a congratulatory hug (note: some people have no concept of personal space and tend to be unaware they are making someone uncomfortable).
Of course it’s only those nasty chauvinist men that perpetrate sexual harassment, right? Wrong. Women can and do participate in sexual harassment too and it doesn’t make it any more acceptable.
So how do you ensure your business has policies and procedures in place to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace? Here are just a few suggestions:
Develop a clear sexual harassment policy and communicate this policy with both management and employees.
Create a workplace culture that emphasizes zero tolerance for sexual harassment through training and your own situational awareness of employee activities.
Establish a reporting procedure that allows your employees to report a sexual harassment incident without fear of retribution.
Impartially investigate each claim of harassment and take steps to address the matter as soon as possible. Your human resources department is most often the best means for investigating any claim. Sometimes in order to ensure complete impartiality, the HR Director will bring in a third party to perform the investigation.
The good news is, there are many more business owners today who will not tolerate his or her workforce being subjected to sexual harassment. That said, it still occurs and even the most subtle forms of sexual harassment can lead to tarnished personal and professional reputations, costly lawsuits and much more. Although business leaders should adhere to the moral imperative of keeping sexual harassment out of the workplace out of principal, the fact is it affects employee productivity and satisfaction and thus your profit margins. For more information about how to develop a comprehensive sexual harassment policy or to ask for assistance in investigating an existing sexual harassment claim, call EPI Investigations at (605) 759-8778 or email us today.