Sexual harassment, that is. This is a topic that nearly everyone in business shies away from due to its negative and sometimes frightening overtones. The truth of the matter is that there were more than 11,700 sexual harassment lawsuits filed last year alone. All fifty states saw their share of litigation; no business is immune to its sting. It isn’t necessarily if a business will be impacted by such a legal situation, but when. Being knowledgeable, prepared, and having a firm policy in place is just the beginning. It is crucial to have signed policy acknowledgements on file from each employee along with written procedures established should a complaint ever become known. A well educated workforce, along with stringent policies and procedures will help, but when it strikes, you need to have all the tools necessary on hand to be armed for battle.
Sexual harassment isn’t just something that happens to women, although they file the vast majority of cases. According to the US Government’s EEOC web site, more than 11, 700 sexual harassment law suits were filed in this country, with more than 16.4% of the total filed by males.
Just as bullying is not permissible in the schoolyard, sexual harassment (another bullying tactic) is not permissible in the workplace. There are several styles and types of sexual harassment; thus there is no clear-cut brand of interaction that narrows the topic to easily defined objective claims. To boil it down, however, any actions or statements made that create a hostile work environment may constitute sexual harassment. Bullying doesn’t have to be typical, but making someone uncomfortable in a sexual manner is the rudest form of interaction, and there are laws against it.
A poll conducted by the watchdog group, eBossWatch, revealed some disparaging revelations. Here are the results of their online poll at the date of this writing.
Does your company have a workplace bullying policy in place?
- No (61%, 559 Votes)
- Yes (26%, 240 Votes)
- Not sure (13%, 115 Votes)
Total Voters: 914
This is a rather revealing statistic. In addition to over half of the companies not having a bullying policy in place at all, it seems that more than one hundred were unsure if their company even had a bullying (maybe not entitled bullying) policy. Perhaps the term ‘sexual harassment’ would be more recognizable to these respondents, but the statistics do show that people do not equate bullying to sexual harassment — which it clearly is.
Today’s companies must consider sexual harassment as one of the most important anti-litigation topics on which to train their employees. Not only should all management and supervisory personnel be clearly indoctrinated regarding the signs and symptoms of such a serious internal business disease, but general staff must also be fully versed on the company’s position on such conduct. Managers and supervisors are not the only ones about which are complained; co-workers, vendors and anyone that interacts with employees are also susceptible.
A case in Michigan was filed against a manager that allegedly told unfavorable jokes, thereby creating a hostile work environment. As a result of the complainant’s action to lodge a harassment complaint against said manager, he allegedly fired her for no reason. Subsequent hearings and depositions revealed that the complainant’s previous employer, also a male, had not only impregnated her, but also convinced her to abort the fetus, and subsequently fired her. The arbitration board found no basis for her complaint against the second manager, as she clearly felt a bias against male supervisors. Her dismissal for poor work performance stood, and her claim was notably unfounded. Not every complaint is rational, logic based, or even true, but all must be taken deadly seriously.
The follow-up article, entitled “Training Isn’t Enough” will outline what the law clearly expects, what the process toward resolution should be, and how the construction of an effective, fully legal, encompassing policy should be formulated. Additionally, we will touch on some of the most infamous sexual harassment suits ever filed, which will improve the understanding of potential pitfalls, obstacles and oversights that this topic contains.
Does your company have a strict policy in place to prevent sexual harassment? Get started with Myco Portal today and ensure that your company policies are read and acknowledged by all employees.
Here’s to Better HR,