Now that the issue of sexual harassment has become an everyday talking point of our national conversation, with so many celebrities, politicians and business tycoons caught in its ever-widening web, you have to wonder:
Have we reached the tipping point of these misdeeds, past and present, being brought to light?
As if we already didn’t know, sexual harassment cuts a swath across all walks of life – from the most exalted levels of our culture to blue-collar settings — where our awareness of what really goes on behind the scenes doesn’t make for splashy front-page headlines.
First, let me say to anyone who believes they’ve been victimized by sexual harassment in the workplace: Along with my sympathies, you have several options, none of which are all that pleasant.
You’re about to enter a perilous legal, ethical, moral, and heart-wrenching realm hinging on the basic crux of any dispute — your word against someone else’s. Whatever you do first, make sure you’ve accurately documented your accusations in writing. Then be prepared for the fight of your life.
For starters, I’d recommend that you contact your HR department, if that exists where you work. If not, contact your immediate supervisor.
If that’s not feasible – and all too often, such a direct-report role creates unwanted advances and ill treatment – contact a lawyer who specializes in workplace harassment, a fast-growing field these days.
If that’s not a financial option, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and get in line. Be prepared for a long wait.
Or you could simply quit and seek another job. Which I’d recommend only if none of the above remedies hold any promise of a positive resolution.
None of these qualify as sure-fire fixes. But with the current climate rightly leaning toward outrage regarding such behavior, the pendulum has swung toward punitive consequences for creeps and those with creepy behavior.
Meanwhile, what should company owners, operators, managers, and their HR directors do to make sure they’re following proper procedures to 1) prevent such harassment, and 2) deal fairly with claims when they arise?
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a nationwide trade group that certifies HR professionals – nearly 300,000 members in 165 countries – here are the sorts of questions you should ask yourself:
· Do you have a sufficiently up-to-date and legally binding anti-harassment policy? If not, get one. As soon as possible.
· Is your policy written down, formalized, and distributed to your employees? If not, why not? Don’t allow any employee to claim he/she didn’t know about your policy. Ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse.
· Is your policy iron-clad or merely adequate? If so, now’s the time to dust it off. Then seek legal help to make sure your policies reflect today’s laws and social mores.
· Does your policy offer relevant sample cases of unacceptable conduct and consequences for bad behavior and policy violations? Make sure it does.
· Does your company provide sufficient methods of filing complaints without fear of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation? If not, you’re not serious about following the law.
· When your company receives a complaint, do you investigate it thoroughly? You’d better, either internally or else hire an outside lawyer or legal firm for counsel and guidance. Remember, ignorance is no longer an excuse, not for you or your employees.
· When you hear rumors of bad workplace behavior, even though no formal complaint has been filed, do you simply ignore them? Don’t pretend such rumors will go away. Sometimes truth hides behind fear.
Taken as a whole, these best-practices should reflect a workplace that places a value on respect, communication and fair-mindedness for all. Make sure everyone understands that what might have been winked at in the past – unwanted or inappropriate behaviors, ethnic slurs, sexist comments, and offensive “jokes” — simply aren’t tolerated anymore.
Nor should they be.
Likewise, consider the consequences of not dealing effectively with charges of sexual harassment – think lawsuits, lost revenue, ruined reputation, loss of clients and/or investors. Better to make certain your workplace stays as safe and protected as possible from harassment of all kinds.
Times have changed. Make sure you’ve changed for the better.
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