The #MeToo movement brought workplace sexual harassment prevention to the forefront of the international consciousness and sparked a conversation about workplace ethics and conduct. But it didn’t stop there. Today, many organizations around the world are continuing to shape and reshape their policies, gain a greater understanding of the threats and mistreatment their employees face or could face, and attempt to resolve issues before they become a problem.
Still, whether you’re reshaping your workplace sexual harassment prevention policies or building a program from the ground up, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some resources and guidelines to help you.
Policies: Your company handbook and beyond
The first resource you have at your disposal is your own company policy. It may have been in place for decades or longer, so it’s probably time to revisit it, especially in light of new laws and circumstances. Pull out aspects that seem to be working and take a long, hard look at those that aren’t. It’s a good idea to get the input of a chief compliance officer or chief integrity officer — who should be involved in any workplace sexual harassment prevention program overhaul anyway. You should also involve your human resources and legal teams to gain better insight into the requirements your policy must meet.
Another helpful tool can be your staff. An anonymous survey can allow you better understand issues in your workplace of which you may not even be aware. Ask your employees questions about whether they’ve experienced workplace sexual harassment at your company, whether they felt comfortable reporting it, and if the issue was resolved to their satisfaction. Make it clear that the feedback they provide is truly anonymous.
State and federal policies
Another important tool you should use when reshaping your policies is state and federal laws. Several states, including New York and California, have recently overhauled their requirements, including workplace sexual harassment prevention training specifications. When you revise your company policy, be sure to take your state’s laws, as well as the federal laws, into account, ensuring that it meets (and preferably exceeds) the requirements.
People are also important resources for establishing a workplace sexual harassment prevention program and policy at your organization. Consider the roles involved. They include:
• Your chief integrity/compliance officer
This person should be integral in shaping the policy and procedures and should have a clear agenda to promote a healthy company culture. If an employee violates the policy or someone reports an incident, this executive should be the go-to person for handling and resolving the issue.
There should be a clear chain of command for reporting incidents, and managers should have defined roles. They must know how to handle matters employees bring to their attention, usually as a result of training.
Employees should be able to recognize and report sexual harassment when it occurs without fear of retribution. Again, training is crucial to ensuring that employees understand what constitutes sexual harassment. This includes people who witness actions that violate your workplace sexual harassment prevention policy as well — bystanders have a responsibility to report incidents, too, and should be able to do so without fear of retaliation.
• Your entire organization
From your board of directors to the interns, everyone has a fundamental role in ensuring that people feel comfortable and safe in the workplace. It is everyone’s duty to promote a culture of integrity and awareness.
Reporting procedures are an important reference tool to help you ensure that you’re investigating and resolving issues completely. As with your policy (which should include these procedures in clear language), your current procedures may require an overhaul, but they’re a good starting point. Ultimately, these procedures should offer:
- Complete guidelines for reporting harassment, including the channels involved
- An explanation for how the complaint will be handled and investigated
- An assurance of confidentiality for the complainant, whether it’s the victim or a bystander
- Clearly articulated consequences for misconduct
- A summary of the personnel involved in handling complaints and their roles
Training, awareness, education, and prevention
Training is one of the most important and useful steps employers can take to ensure awareness and prevention. Through a comprehensive training program, employees will learn what sexual harassment entails — after all, there are many “gray” areas — proper conduct and responsibilities in the workplace, how to be part of the solution, and what to do in the case of a violation.
Many states have very specific requirements when it comes to the number of hours, content, and type of workplace sexual harassment prevention training managers and employees must receive. For example, California requires all employers with five or more employees to receive at least one hour of sexual harassment and abusive conduct prevention training or two for managers at least once every two years, among other stipulations. Programs such as Interactive Services’ Sexual Harassment Prevention for All 50 States can help you ensure that you’re meeting your state laws and keeping your employees safe.