Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.
Prevention Through Knowledge
Workplace sexual harassment can create problems for the organization and its members. The best solution to avoid sexual harassment, and the harm it imposes, is to be proactive rather than reactive. Empowering employees to help prevent sexual harassment starts with knowledge of sexual harassment.
You can break sexual harassment down into two types. The first type, quid pro quo harassment, occurs when a supervisor demands a sexual favor from a subordinate employee, either in exchange for a beneficial employment action or to avoid an adverse employment action. Examples of employment actions include hiring, firing, transferring and compensation decisions.
The second type of sexual harassment is hostile environment sexual harassment. According to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), this type of harassment involves the victim being exposed to severe and pervasive 'verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . . when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.' Examples include telling inappropriate jokes, displaying lewd and offensive images and engaging in unwelcome and lewd touching.
Preventing Sexual Harassment - Mandatory Procedures
Now that we understand what sexual harassment entails, how can we do our part? Employees need to read, understand and commit to their employer's sexual harassment policy. Your organization's sexual harassment policy outlines the rules and procedures relating to defining, reporting, investigating and remedying sexual harassment. The policies are designed to prevent and correct instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. Again, one of your responsibilities as an employee is to know and comply with the policy.
Knowing policy is not enough on its own. Employees must also know the procedures for filing complaints, and expectations of behavior. They can also be instructed by supervisors and through training on bystander intervention. In this way, employees may be braver to speak up and file complaints when they witness another employee being sexually harassed. Some organizations even have an anonymous helpline for any employees that want to speak up after experiencing or seeing sexual harassment in the workplace. The shared sense of responsibility and accountability for employees has also been encouraged through movements such as the 'MeToo' movement that emerged on social media.
In some organizations, employees also have the chance to speak up during performance appraisals. Appraisals can be more than a review of employee performance and achievements. They can also offer an opportunity for employees to raise any instances of sexual harassment that they have witnessed or experienced.
Training in itself will certainly help employees become aware of the effects of sexual harassment and what to look out for. However, HR managers also need to introduce pre-training and post-training elements to be truly effective. Pre-training involves HR finding out exactly what should be the content of the training courses and requires the help and support of employees. In many companies, an anonymous survey is distributed to find out employees' experiences of harassment. When employees attend the training courses, it is not enough to simply provide information in lectures. To be truly effective, HR should plan for interactive training in the form of simulation, role-playing, and small group discussions. Employees also participate in post-training. The follow-up often involves employees completing knowledge assessment tests or surveys anonymously to find out how harassment has changed since the training.
Preventing Sexual Harassment - Use Common Sense
Employees can help prevent workplace sexual harassment through simple common sense. Be respectful in your interactions with your fellow employees, including your interactions with subordinates. In other words, model appropriate behavior. For example, don't tell jokes that come close to crossing the line, and don't view or hang up images in your workspace that come close to being offensive to other people. When in doubt about whether your conduct constitutes sexual harassment, assume that it does.
Let's review what we've learned. Employees can help prevent workplace sexual harassment. The first step is to understand exactly what sexual harassment is. The second step is to be sure to read, understand and comply with your organization's sexual harassment policy. Finally, use common sense with your interactions with co-workers in the workplace. Be respectful and model appropriate behavior.
As the lesson progresses, you can enhance your ability to:
- Indicate two types of sexual harassment
- Discuss the procedures to follow to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
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