Sexual misconduct has become a controversial issue in the American workplace. As the MeToo movement has exposed influential figures and executives across multiple industries, employers are trying to find new ways to address and prevent sexual harassment.
While state laws may vary, employers have a legal obligation to express a duty of care to their employees that they will protect them from various forms of mistreatment.
Misconduct can be difficult to define
One’s actions don’t always have to be outlandish for them to be considered inappropriate. That’s because the terms “sexual harassment” and “sexual misconduct” can cover a wide variety of behaviors. Sexual harassment can be something as simple as calling a coworker “dear” or “honey.” It can also be displayed as unwanted flirting, grabbing or other forms of bodily contact.
Enforcing anti-sexual harassment policies
These are some things for employers to consider when writing or revising their sexual harassment policy:
- Provide a purpose: Employers may want to establish their commitment to providing a safe work environment with approachable superiors. They may also want to explain why they are creating or revising the policy and what they hope to achieve with it.
- Give definitions and examples: What organizations consider to be sexual harassment often vary. That’s why definitions should be stated clearly and concisely to avoid confusion and promote transparency. Employers can do this by providing examples of good and bad behavior in the workplace.
- Provide instructions on how to file a complaint: This section can be used to establish the roles and responsibilities of managers, HR and other investigators in the complaint filing process. They can also use it to describe how the company should handle allegations.
- Establish disciplinary procedures: This can help explain the different levels of disciplinary actions based on the severity of the offense. For example, if an employee made an inappropriate joke, they may receive a verbal warning. If the worker repeats the behavior, they could be subject to a demotion or even termination.
Policies can help provide transparency
Inappropriate behavior can be hard to define in some cases. However, a sound anti-harassment policy can provide both employers and employees the clarity they need to deal with these matters effectively. Employers facing litigation regarding sexual harassment claims may want to speak with an attorney. They can help them understand their rights and defend their case in court.