With the recent headlines regarding sexual misconduct allegations against public figures like Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein, along with the continuing investigations of other prominent celebrities and the #MeToo campaign, discussion of sexual harassment is at an all-time high. Since more women have come forward with stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, companies are taking a more proactive approach by offering on-site courses to employees on respectful workplace behavior and harassment prevention.
Is your company prepared to address these issues? Do you have formal policies in place to ensure that employees feel safe and secure in their work environment?
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which affects companies with 15 or more employees including state and local governments, employment agencies and labor organizations. Harassment takes many forms.
According to the EEOC, harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive. Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality, (though they may nonetheless contribute to a less-than-ideal company culture). To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.
Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, name calling, physical assaults, threats, intimidation, insults, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.
The following are several action items that we are encouraging our clients to consider in order to prevent harassment situations in their own workplaces:
- Review your current employee handbook to ensure that your company has a current and actionable anti-harassment policy.
- Communicate and reinforce to managers & supervisors that any form of harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace.
- Provide a refresher training on maintaining a respectful workplace or sexual harassment prevention.
- Ensure all leaders are accountable for recognizing and bringing forth any allegations.
- If a complaint does arise, do not dismiss or ignore it. All complaints should be reviewed and investigated to determine the appropriate next steps.
- Follow your outlined company process for addressing the complaint in a timely manner.
Employees are looking to their company leadership to foster a safe and respectful workplace, thus creating a healthy company culture that does not tolerate harassment. Organizations that dismiss or ignore complaints of harassment will find themselves left behind, and potentially making negative headlines that will be hard to escape in both the short and long term.
1 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Laws, Regulations & Guidance, Types of Discrimination; https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm
Tiffany Cardwell is a Principal Consultant on MCM’s HR Advisory Services team. She has more than twenty years of experience in domestic and international human resources within the banking, finance, food & beverage, healthcare, health insurance and long‐term care industries. She has expertise in acquisitions, change management, engagement, leadership coaching and development, performance management, compensation and total rewards, talent acquisition and workforce planning.
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