With the current discussion surrounding sexual harassment and sexual allegations, it’s more important than ever for HR professionals to cover all the bases when it comes to compliance training. Even though behavior that might be considered sexual harassment might seem rather obvious in this day and age, it’s often more nuanced than most employees might consider. Knowing how to properly train and educate employees makes for a safer and much more comfortable workplace.
More Males Report Sexual Harassment Than Females
When teaching employees about sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s important to bear in mind that more males report sexual harassment than females, which might surprise some. For this reason, it’s important HR professionals make training completely gender neutral and stress the fact that both men and women can not only be victims of sexual harassment, but that they should not fear to report any sexual harassment they might experience in the workplace. With this approach, men can become more aware of when they may be victims themselves, something that most certainly hasn’t been ingrained in them by society.
Suggestive Remarks Are Considered Sexual Harassment
An employee doesn’t have to be cornered in an elevator, receive unwanted physical contact or receive inappropriate emails for him or her to be a victim of sexual harassment, a suggestive remark can be considered harassment. Additional behavior often considered sexual harassment includes:
Use of offensive language
Compliments with sexual overtones
Bragging about sexual skills
Essentially, any behavior of a sexual nature that makes employees feel uncomfortable in the workplace is grounds for filing a sexual harassment report.
Employee Perception Can Impact the Effectiveness of Policies
Studies have shown it’s not unusual for an employee’s perception of workplace sexual harassment policies to tarnish the overall meaning of those policies. What this means is that sometimes, employers aren’t as clear as they should be when it comes to defining sexual harassment. This is one of the reasons it’s so essential workers are well-aware of what falls under the sexual harassment umbrella so they do not unknowingly violate policies. In some cases of sexual harassment, employees genuinely aren’t aware their behavior, actions or comments could be considered sexual harassment. Here, employers are just as much to blame as employees, maybe more so.
Employers Should Be Aware of Nontraditional Harassment
An employee doesn’t have to directly approach another employee for there to be an instance of sexual harassment. If there is a public computer in the work environment that contains adult images, sexually suggestive emails, bookmarked adult sites or the like, it can be considered cyberstalking or nontraditional sexual harassment. What’s most essential for employers to bear in mind with nontraditional sexual harassment and cyberstalking is they’re illegal acts under U.S. laws. While it might seem like common sense to not look up or save adult content on a public computer, employers should leave no room for doubt in such cases.
Some Employees Fail to Report Sexual Harassment Because of the Potential for Backlash
Much like actors and actresses in Hollywood failed to report sexual harassment because they thought it would harm their careers, the same is true of employees in the workplace. What’s more is those who did report instances of sexual harassment felt there was much to be desired with the final outcome of the situation. For this reason, companies need to make it plain not only what constitutes sexual harassment, but also the consequences harassers will face. Oftentimes, HR is so focused on making sure everyone is aware of the true definition and circumstances of sexual harassment they don’t spend as much time explaining the breadth of the consequences of harassing someone.
Actions to Prevent Lawsuits Should Be Taken
While it’s understandable for managers and supervisors to want to keep their distance from sexual harassment reports and leave the job to HR, the truth of the matter is managers and supervisors should involve themselves in devising a fair resolution to the report. In addition to showing employees their employer takes such instances seriously, the involvement of those in high positions could be just the thing needed to keep employees from filing a lawsuit. On a related note, companies should know that just because they have a sexual harassment policy in place does not mean employees cannot or will not file a lawsuit.
There’s no doubt that sexual harassment is a sensitive and serious issue. All HR professionals should know how to proceed for the safety of everyone in the workplace.