You’ll have no doubt heard or read about the despicable sexual harassment complaints against Harvey Weinstein, founder of Hollywood movie giant Miramax, as media has been buzzing about the issue. This year, Time Magazine has announced “The Silence Breakers” of the #MeToo movement as Person of the Year. This movement has spear-headed awareness, discussion and debate over the much heated topic of verbal and/or physical abuse to women encouraging them to speak out about the topic and shed light on their own personal experiences.
What’s so shocking is the prevalence of sexual harassment at work, with thousands worldwide since speaking up about their experiences on social channels. For employers, there should be ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual harassment in the workforce however, this is an issue that employers need to be extremely cautious of to ensure it’s not happening within their office.
It’s apparent that no matter how large or how small your business is, sexual harassment can happen anywhere, to anyone. And you, as an employer, must do all you can to try to keep your employees protected.
The most important step is recognizing what sexual harassment is. As noted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based on sex. When someone is sexually harassed in the workplace, it can destabilize their sense of personal self-worth. It can prevent them from earning a living, doing their job successfully, or reaching their full potential. Sexual harassment can also cause the office environment to be toxic everyone else. If left unchecked, sexual harassment in the workplace has the potential to intensify to violent behaviour.
Employers that do not safeguard themselves or their employees from facing sexual harassment in the workforce can endure major implications for not addressing and handling the occurrence with the right protocols and procedures. Always listen to your staff and take every allegation seriously.
Break the culture of silence
If you’re ever unaware of any staff concerns about sexual harassment, it could be highly damaging for your business. People who experience sexual harassment—or others who witness it—need to feel comfortable enough to raise their concerns. That means that it’s crucial for you, as an employer, to create a supportive culture. To do this, the easiest way to create an open, honest culture by listening to your staff.
Investigate and take action
Carry out a detailed investigation into every allegation by interviewing witnesses and documenting statements. Disciplinary action should follow as necessary. To make it easier for staff who have been impacted or those that have come forward, give an HR professional the role of receiving any potential sexual harassment complaints. As it’s a sensitive issue, train up your allocated person to carry out difficult conversations with staff. He or she will then need to report on the concerns so you can take the necessary steps. If you don’t have a trained professional to handle these types of issues you should investigate HR consulting firms that can provide advice or guidance.
Relay clear company rules verbally and within employee documentation
Use an anti-harassment policy to set out the rules on acceptable behaviour at the office. The policy can include a list of types of behaviour that could constitute sexual harassment, including different forms such as words, jokes, touch, emails, and other written material like posters. You must state the consequences of committing sexual harassment in your policy both to discourage staff and to make it easier for you to take any essential disciplinary action.
Finally, train your new hires on these rules and repeat the training periodically to limit the chances of anyone claiming they were unaware of them.
It’s critical to re-evaluate your business, by taking a closer look at your current policies and procedures in place that support and foster a harassment-free workplace.