With all the recent allegations of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, employers should be prepared for an increase in lawsuits across other industries as well. Now is a good time to review company policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment in the workplace to ensure that employees are protected and have safe avenues to report any incidents that may arise.
Anti-harassment policies can protect both employees and employers by proactively establishing a zero-tolerance policy. Ideally, the policy should be crafted with the input of experienced legal counsel. Such policies should be clearly defined and easily accessible to all employees. It is important to be able to demonstrate that workers have been informed about the company’s policies.
An effective policy against sexual harassment will clearly state the zero-tolerance rule and define what qualifies as harassment, including examples of what is prohibited. Employees should be provided with several options to report sexual harassment that they have experienced or witnessed, and they should be encouraged to report incidents immediately. All reports should remain confidential and there should be an avenue available to report incidents that does not involve a direct supervisor, should that person be the subject of a complaint. The policy should include a promise that there will be no retaliation for reporting workplace harassment.
Employers should provide anti-harassment training for all employees during orientation. In many states this is required by law. The training should cover the company policy on sexual harassment as well as how to prevent it. Managers should be thoroughly familiar with what procedures to take when a complaint is brought.
Typically, human resources should get involved immediately when a complaint is received, and the incident should be investigated without delay. The investigation should be led by trained human resources professionals or managers, and legal counsel should be informed of any matters under internal investigation. It is important to have the employee give a full written account with as much detail as possible in order to be able to follow up on every allegation. The investigation should include all pertinent communications including text messages and emails. During this period, the employee should be removed from any scenarios that involve working together with the alleged offender. Every effort should be made to keep the matter as confidential as possible while still fully investigating the complaint.
A key component of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is demonstrating that it will not be tolerated with consequences for those who violate the company’s policy. The appropriate action should be taken immediately. This can range from written warnings to suspension, ordering mandatory training, demoting, or terminating the offender. After documenting the steps taken, follow up with the employee to let them know what is being done to prevent future incidents of harassment.
For assistance with any employment related matter, call MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or submit an online contact form.