Coping with sexual harassment at work

How to Deal with 
Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment is bad for business. Not only can it become a major distraction from work, it can also prove very costly for the business if not handled quickly, thoroughly and appropriately.

There should already be sexual harassment policies and procedures in place. Corporate training should also be in place so that all personnel have full knowledge of the policies and procedures.

For the Business

Besides creating a clear policy for sexual harassment, a business should include this information in their employee handbook. The policy should,

  • Define what sexual harassment means,
  • Make it perfectly clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,
  • Emphasize that offenders will be disciplined or fired,
  • State that any complaint will be fully investigated, and
  • Make it clear that retaliation against the complainant will not be tolerated.

In addition to the employee handbook, a business with more than a handful of employees should,

  • Train managers and supervisors on how to identify and thwart sexual harassment,
  • Assign one senior corporate officer to manage the execution of the policies,
  • Establish procedures to be used when reporting an incident,
  • Appoint an HR officer or other suitable manager to receive such complaints,
  • Supply alternative paths for filing complaints, and
  • Keep all such charges confidential.

For the Individual

If you ever believe that someone has sexually harassed you, do the following:

  • First of all, do not deny that something has happened. Trust yourself and your instincts.
  • Do not assume that the person will stop if you ignore it.
  • Do not be afraid to speak up. If the offense is relatively minor—like a co-worker telling an off-color joke—tell the person politely, but firmly, that you are uncomfortable with what they are doing and that you would prefer that they stop. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them directly, then put the complaint in writing.
  • Do not attempt to deal with more severe forms of sexual harassment alone—things like touching, groping, and kissing by a co-worker, or more minor acts by a manager or supervisor. Ask for assistance through the appropriate channels as specified in your employee manual. If no channel has been specified, talk to your HR manager.
  • Document what happened in detail (name of the person, time, location, sequence of actions, names of witnesses and any other pertinent facts). It is especially important to document each incident if the unpleasant behavior happens again.
  • File a formal complaint, if necessary.

For Everyone

The more everyone at work knows what to look for and what is and isn’t appropriate behavior, the more easily such incidents can be handled or prevented. That’s where corporate training proves essential in the battle against sexual harassment. Online training courses can be done at the convenience of each employee and such e-learning can be tracked by the HR department to ensure compliance.

Work is stressful enough without sexual harassment. Stay safe.