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How Can Employers Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that can lead to lawsuits, damage to a company’s reputation, and a toxic work environment.

As a Morgantown sexual harassment lawyer, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that sexual harassment can have on employees and businesses alike. Here, the Morgantown sexual harassment team at Desai Law will explore practical steps that employers can take to prevent sexual harassment and create a safe, respectful workplace for all.

What is Sexual Harassment?

First, let’s define what sexual harassment is. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made a term or condition of employment
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment

Examples of sexual harassment can include:

  • Unwanted touching or groping
  • Sexually explicit jokes, comments, or innuendos
  • Displaying sexually suggestive pictures or objects
  • Sending sexually explicit emails or texts
  • Quid pro quo harassment (e.g., promising a promotion in exchange for sexual favors)

It’s important to note that sexual harassment can occur between individuals of any gender, and the harasser can be a supervisor, co-worker, client, or vendor.

Steps Employers Can Take to Prevent Sexual Harassment

There are several key steps that employers can take to create a workplace environment that is free from sexual harassment and where all employees feel safe and respected.

Establishing a Clear Policy Against Harassment

One of the most important things employers can do to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace is to create a strong policy that clearly states that harassment will not be allowed. This policy should explain exactly what sexual harassment is and give examples of the kinds of behaviors that are not okay. It should let employees know that sexual harassment is something the company takes very seriously and will not put up with under any circumstances.

The policy should also spell out how employees can report harassment if it happens to them or if they see it happening to someone else. It’s important that the policy explains what will happen to employees who engage in harassment, such as getting fired or suspended. Every employee should receive a copy of the policy and it should be included in the employee handbook.

The policy should make it crystal clear that every single employee, no matter what their job is or how long they’ve worked there, is expected to follow the rules and that the company will not tolerate any retaliation against employees who come forward to report harassment.

Offering Training to Educate Employees

In addition to having a strong policy, employers should also provide training to all employees about sexual harassment. The training should go over what sexual harassment is and provide real-life examples of the types of actions and behaviors that constitute harassment.

Employees should learn about the company’s anti-harassment policy during the training and understand how to properly report harassment if they experience it or see it happening in the workplace. The training should emphasize the serious consequences that employees will face if they engage in sexual harassment.

It’s best if the training is hands-on and interactive rather than just a boring lecture. Using realistic scenarios and examples can help make the training more engaging and effective. Employers should offer this training on a regular basis, like once a year, so that employees are always aware of the company’s policies and procedures when it comes to preventing sexual harassment.

Making It Easy and Safe to Report Harassment

Another key aspect of preventing workplace sexual harassment is making sure that employees feel comfortable reporting it if it happens to them or if they witness it happening to a co-worker. No employee should ever feel scared that they will be punished or retaliated against for coming forward about harassment.

Employers can encourage employees to speak up by offering multiple ways to report harassment, such as a confidential hotline or an online system. It’s important that employees know their reports will be kept as private as possible and that the company will investigate every single report thoroughly and quickly.

When an investigation finds that harassment did occur, the company must take appropriate action right away. Employers need to send a strong message that they will not allow any retaliation against employees who bravely speak up to report sexual harassment in the workplace.

Taking Swift and Decisive Action

Whenever an employer receives a report of sexual harassment, they must take it very seriously and act right away to look into the situation and resolve it.

The first step is to conduct a complete investigation, which involves talking to the person who made the complaint, the person accused of harassment, and any employees who witnessed the harassment taking place. The employer should also look at any documents or other evidence that could help determine exactly what happened. Based on the information gathered during the investigation, the employer needs to decide if sexual harassment occurred.

If the investigation proves that harassment did happen, the employer must take appropriate disciplinary action against the harasser right away, which could include firing them or suspending them from work. The employer should let both the person who complained and the person accused of harassment know the outcome of the investigation.

It’s also important for the employer to consider if any additional training or policy changes need to be made to help prevent future incidents of harassment from happening.

Promoting a Culture of Respect

One of the most effective ways employers can prevent sexual harassment is by creating a workplace culture where all employees treat each other with respect. When respect is a key company value, harassment is much less likely to occur.

Employers can build this type of positive culture by always modeling respectful behavior, especially at the highest levels of leadership. They should encourage open and honest communication and make it clear that they welcome feedback from employees.

Regularly training employees on diversity, inclusion, and respect can also help reinforce how important these values are to the company. Employers should also make an effort to recognize and celebrate employee achievements and milestones. When employees feel appreciated and supported, they are more likely to act in positive ways.

Promoting a healthy work-life balance and prioritizing employee wellness also contribute to a workplace environment where harassment is less likely to take place. When the company culture is built on a strong foundation of respect, employees will be less inclined to engage in harassment and more willing to speak up if they see it happening.

Consistently Evaluating Anti-Harassment Efforts

Finally, employers need to always be checking to make sure their anti-harassment efforts are actually working. This means collecting information in a few different ways. Conducting anonymous surveys is a good way to get honest feedback from employees about how they feel about the workplace culture and if they think the company is doing enough to prevent harassment.

Employers should also regularly look at the data on how many harassment complaints have been reported and how those complaints were handled. They should assess if the training programs are effective and if the policies are clear and comprehensive enough.

If the data or feedback suggests any problems, the employer must be willing to make necessary changes to strengthen their anti-harassment efforts. Constantly monitoring the situation and making improvements as needed is the best way for employers to make sure their workplace is free of harassment and discrimination over the long term.

Contact a Morgantown Sexual Harassment Attorney Today 

At Desai Law, we are dedicated to fighting for the rights of workers who have been subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination. Our Morgantown sexual harassment team knows how to hold employers accountable and secure favorable outcomes for our clients.

If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you are not alone. Don’t feel like you have to suffer in silence. Contact a Morgantown sexual harassment lawyer at (304) 974-1974 for a free consultation, and let us help you stand up for your rights.


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