Since the beginning of the #MeToo
movement, women in virtually every industry have come forward with their own
stories and allegations. Now that the scale of the issue is clearer, companies
are evaluating how to fix inadequate sexual harassment policies. Real change
starts by redefining human resources’ role within the organization. The HR department
has often been viewed as an afterthought, focused on checking legal boxes and
administering benefits, while allowing sexual harassment allegations to fester
unreported or undealt with.
That’s a mistake, not just from a legal or
moral perspective but from a financial one. When harassment is going on, people
are not doing their jobs the way they should be doing them. The first step is
to invest in human resources and empower the department to focus on addressing
larger cultural problems. There are other strategies companies can take to
properly address sexual harassment allegations, as well as create an environment
where such incidents are less likely to happen in the first place.
1. Make it easier
for managers to report sexual claims by creating channels outside of HR.
Middle managers are regularly on the
front lines when it comes to handling reports of sexual misconduct. Typically
managers do not have enough power to meaningfully change the culture or
eradicate the problem. Most managers know they can report sexual harassment
allegations to HR, but if an employee is reluctant to file an official claim
with the department, their options are limited. As a result, allegations often
stop at middle management.
It’s the company’s responsibility to make it
clear what is expected of managers in these types of situations- some think it
should be required to report if anyone hears about a problem. For employers,
this is a protective measure. If a manager knows about an allegation but
doesn’t report it, the company could still be liable for punitive damages
because the manager is considered an agent of the corporation.
Having an avenue outside HR is more
likely to be effective compared to when there is only one reporting mechanism,
particularly because not every troubling encounter ends in a formal complaint.
In such cases, having someone outside of HR to speak with gives employees an
opportunity to assess their options.
2. Put no
retaliation policies down in writing.
When an employee comes forward with an
allegation of sexual harassment, the law prohibits his or her employer from
workplace retaliation. After a report is filed, it’s often the victim who
suffers professionally. You have to build a climate of trust so victims will
come forward in order to start addressing the problem.
In order to ensure that those who come
forward have some level of protection, adopt a plan that would be considered
retaliatory, such as barring the employee from meetings, removing him or her
from accounts, or telling coworkers about the situation. They also include
detailed consequences should these actions occur.
3. Invest in
better training, particularly bystander training
Training sessions, while cost
effective, often consist of an hour-long video or lecture that exists to check
off legal boxes and there’s some evidence they can backfire. By portraying
sexual harassment as a black and white issue, the focus of the issue divides
the workforce into harassers or victims, roles many people refuse to identify
with. While in-person training sessions are generally viewed as a better option
than training videos, it all depends on the content of the training and the
quality of the trainer.
More companies should focus on
strategies employees can use to become part of the solution. Known as bystander
intervention, this form of training recognizes that the workforce is more than
a collection of harassers and victims, and teaches employees how to respond
when they see inappropriate behavior, including conflict management techniques,
such as de-escalating and redirection techniques.
4. Recognize that
there are many grey areas.
Stopping sexual harassment requires
creating an environment where bothersome and unprofessional behavior is not
acceptable, but where such displays are not conflated with sexual harassment.
Particularly for more minor offenses, immediately turning to the labels can do
more harm than good; the threat of legal action typically leads to
defensiveness and denial. Workplace sexual harassment training must extend
beyond clear violations, the focus needs to expand to include concrete details
on the culture that is expected in the workplace.
Converge HR Solutions, we can help you build appropriate policies and implement
them in your workplace.
With new and changing policies and regulation, it is important to stay up to date and Converge HR Solutions is here to help.
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