March is the country’s Women’s History Month, with March 8th being International Women’s Day. That seems reason enough to talk about the elephant in the room – sexual harassment against women (and men) in the workplace. The #MeToo movement has been around for quite some time now, resulting in numerous stories of sexual abuse being pulled out from under the rug (or in some cases, invented). Sexual harassment can go both ways and affect both sexes; so for the purpose of this article, we will refrain from assigning sex towards either the abuser or the victim.

What does sexual harassment really include? 

Sexual harassment consists of just about anything sexual in nature that could made a person feel uncomfortable in the workplace, from unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and even offensive sex- or gender-based remarks. While several of these instances are not looked down upon outside of the workplace (provided they are consensual and/or inoffensive), harassment within the colleague-boss circle is illegal as it affects the individual’s employment, work performance, and creates an intimidating, hostile, and generally unproductive work environment. Protection against sexual harassment has been legalized under federal laws Title VII (for the workplace) and Title IX (for educational institutions). Title VII in particular, applies to those employers with 15 or more workers. 

Types of Sexual Harassment

It can occur in many scenarios, and you must know that you and your employee can be protected in any of these situations:

  • The victim may be harassed by either a woman or a man; it doesn’t necessarily have to be by a person of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s boss, a supervisor of another department, a co-worker, or even a non-employee.
  • The victim needn’t be the person directly receiving the harassment; it could be any person in the room who is justifiably offended by the goings-on in the workplace.

What can a victim of sexual harassment do?

The first step when dealing with sexual harassment would be to recognize the occurence of harassment and inform the harasser that their conduct is unwelcome and must immediately end. The victim or observers of the offense must then report it to the Human Resources department or utilize any similar complaint system available in the workplace. 

What can the company do about harassment allegations?

Investigate, investigate, investigate. As an employer, you want to make sure the right person is retributed and the right person is compensated. Surrounding the #MeToo movement, several people were unjustly accused without any evidence resulting in devastating blows to their reputation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) must thoroughly investigate the allegations of sexual harassment by looking at all the facts and circumstances, the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incident occured. 

What can’t the company do?

By law, you cannot retaliate against an individual for filing a discrimination charge, for testifying or participating in a sexual harassment investigation or any kind of related proceeding under Title VII. It is also illegal to retaliate against someone for protesting employment practices that discriminate based on sex. Just let the judge be the judge and get to the bottom of the situation. 

Sexual harassment allegations can turn into a rollercoaster (and not the fun kind). The best way to handle it is to prevent it. You can do this by:

  • keeping your employees informed of the company’s sexual harassment policies and procedures,
  • establishing a complaint system or grievance process that can help you take immediate and appropriate action to resolve the situation and assist the victim, and
  • Providing sexual harassment training to all your employees and informing them of procedural updates  

That’s a lot of information to sink your teeth into, but you don’t have to feel overwhelmed. Let HR Learn for Work provide you with time-saving, thorough, and worthwhile sexual harassment training solutions, so you can sit back and reap the benefits of your fully-trained, fully-aware staff.