A Reminder to Implement Effective Policies and Procedures
By Christopher M. Mason
Recent allegations against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes and Olympic snowboarder and professional skateboarder, Shaun White, remind us again of the importance of keeping sexual harassment out of the workplace. Meaningful implementation and enforcement are essential; a policy and poster alone won’t prevent harassment or remedy it when it occurs. Employers must work to change a culture permitting workplace harassment, and police their workforces to ensure that the message has been understood and accepted. The change to culture, attitude and response begins with leadership, including the top leaders and the most notable and recognizable faces within the organization.
Every employer has the duty to prevent and promptly correct sexual harassment. Human resources departments typically assume the lion’s share of the responsibility for adopting and implementing sound anti-sexual harassment policies, but it is the executive leadership that must guide the task and enforce the policies. By law, employers are required to have a system in place to prevent and deal with harassment, and can be held liable for harassment that occurs in their workplace regardless of whether they were aware of it. To protect your business from legal allegations a strong policy and implementation of the policy is needed. They should send regular reminders of expectations, collaborate with human resources to investigate allegations, and police their workplaces to ensure full compliance. As requirements and circumstances evolve, employers should revise their policies and take the necessary steps to educate the entire workplace on the changes. When allegations arise, they must be investigated, no matter how seemingly trivial they may be. If harassment is found it must be corrected and training and discipline should follow.
Employees share some measure of the responsibility for promoting a harassment-free workplace; however, employers need to empower employees by providing necessary resources. All employees should be aware of and fully understand the policies and procedures. All new hires should receive a copy of the company’s policy, acknowledge it in writing and complete training. Regardless of whether they are the victim or a witness, employees should be encouraged to report any and all acts of sexual harassment. Employees should also be actively invited into the process of correcting and resolving concerns of harassment by offering their perspectives on improvements. An entire office that is fully committed to keeping the workplace sexual harassment free will likely have few sexual harassment claims, and a more streamlined process for handling any claims that do arise.
Putting Policy to Practice
Sexual harassment policies may become meaningless when allegations of sexual harassment are brought to light if actual practice falls short of policy requirements. Policies that are effective show their efficacy through practice, and this is done through a strong commitment to responding to concerns in a timely manner, conducting thorough investigations and imposing serious consequences in cases where evidence shows sexual harassment exists. Additionally, employees should feel comfortable raising concerns, and know that they are protected against retaliation. This should be clearly communicated in the employer’s policies and through its actual practices. Enforcement of policy is crucial. Employers should severely discipline employees who retaliate against co-workers. Where even the slightest hint of possible retaliation exists, employers should implement further measures as necessary to prevent it.
No business is exempt from the potential for sexual harassment in the workplace. Both small and large businesses must take the crucial steps to protect themselves from legal claims and their employees from harassment. Although not every attitude towards harassment will suddenly change, thoroughly written sexual harassment policies can save a business from a legal headache. Prevention is crucial in keeping a business harassment-free, and it can be done by developing an effective policy that is understood by all employees, and a commitment to implementation.
Christopher M. Mason is an attorney with Jennings, Strouss & Salmon, P.L.C. in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information on labor and employment legal matter, visit employmentlawtimes.com.