It seems we can’t turn on the news these days without hearing about another victim of sexual harassment coming forward to tell his or her story. Why are we seeing a rise in these claims and what can employers do to ensure their organization isn’t the next company making the wrong kind of headlines?
The reality is, many employers have actually made huge strides in this area. Many employers today do have anti-harassment policies in place and have provided anti-harassment training to employees. But these employers are still finding themselves vulnerable to harassment in the workplace. What went wrong? The answer is very simple: a lack of follow through.
Providing training and having a policy in place is a great first step. But it is just a first step and shouldn’t be the last step taken. In order to truly rid the workplace of sexual harassment, employers should be taking the following next steps:
- Provide Ongoing Training: Notice I didn’t just say training, I said “ongoing” training. Many employers now offer anti-harassment training as part of the on-boarding process and then never again, or if again its infrequent. Employees need on-going training for many reasons. On-going training is a great reminder to employees that you care about this issue, you’re watching, and you won’t tolerate harassment in the workplace. Employees do need reminders. Ongoing training is also important to remind employees that no matter how friendly and comfortable they may have become with their co-workers and subordinates, they are still co-workers and subordinates. The more comfortable we are, the more we tend to let our guard down and forget our place. The reality is, we can say and do certain things outside of work that we simply can’t say and do while at work. Right or wrong, that is our reality. Flirting at a bar or party with friends is allowed. Flirting at work is not – no matter how friendly you think you’ve become with your co-worker.
- Update Your Training: Training in this area is constantly evolving. Don’t offer a training seminar on sexual harassment in 2017 that you offered in 2005. You aren’t offering the training so you can simply check a box. You are offering training to ensure your workforce doesn’t engage in any harassing conduct. Times have changed, your work-force has changed and the problems you face as a business have changed. These changes create new, and often unrecognized breeding grounds for sexual harassment to occur. Scrutinize the type of training you are offering. How detailed is the training? Is it specific to your industry? To your workforce? Is it addressing the situations your employees deal with? Does it provide an opportunity for your employees to really engage and participate in the training, to ask questions and have them answered? In order for training to be effective, it must be specific to your environment and truly engage your employees.
- Review your Anti-harassment policy: Having a policy in place is great. But is your policy working for you? Has anyone taken advantage of this policy? Are your employees aware of your policy? Make sure you publicize and review your policy. Does it contain a realistic process that your business can and will follow? Did your employees who have availed themselves of the complaint procedure find the process to be employee friendly? Again, with changes in your business and work force, you may want to adjust your anti-harassment policy to ensure its working for you.
- Monitor your Workforce: You can’t know what’s really going on if you spend your days locked in your office in front of a computer. Make sure you spend time interacting with your employees, talking to them, create opportunities where employees are encouraged to speak freely about concerns and their inter-personal relationships with their co-workers and supervisors. Make it a point to walk around the office, take in the environment, pay attention to body language, who spends time with who, who tends to avoid certain people. If you hear something questionable, follow up on it! Despite the old adage, ignorance is not bliss.
For questions regarding effective anti-harassment policies and training programs, please contact Deena B. Rosendahl at 201-947-8855 or by email at Drosendahl@Northjerseyattorneys.com.