Business leaders want a workplace that is efficient and focused, yet collegial and welcoming. Getting the right balance between these two office culture goals can have a big impact on a company’s all-around success. A significant step to achieving that balance is through a well-designed company-wide anti-sexual harassment training policy. With such a policy in place, a company can significantly contribute to:
- Protecting its employees,
- Protecting its reputation,
- Reducing employee turnover,
- Increasing workplace efficiency, and
- Protecting its bottom line.
Each one of these goals represents sound business judgment and can only help improve a company’s performance and stature. Furthermore, an anti-sexual harassment policy complies with federal law.
Sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. While the law does not require a workplace to have a “general civility code” to comply with anti-sexual harassment training requirements, a company must prevent frequent and severe behavior that results in a hostile or offensive work environment. In addition, although Maryland law does not require anti-sexual harassment training for private employers, it makes good sense to institute it.
The goal of implementing an anti-sexual harassment policy is threefold. The first is creating a policy that conveys to all employees (leadership, supervisors, and general personnel) the importance of a sexual-harassment-free workplace. The second is to understand what sexual harassment is and looks like. The third is to apply the policy company-wide in a manner that prevents sexual harassment and stops any incidents swiftly. Below, we have outlined three core steps that bring this threefold goal to reality.
Step 1: Establish the Policy
All good internal company policy is written in such a way that every employee can understand not only its purpose and meaning but also how it is implemented and enforced. In the case of anti-sexual harassment training, the policy should contain:
- A clear statement that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in any measure;
- Examples of sexual harassment;
- A simple method for making a sexual harassment complaint;
- Multiple avenues for reporting sexual harassment;
- A statement that all reports will be handled confidentially;
- A statement that individuals who report sexual harassment will not suffer adverse consequences (i.e., an anti-retaliation policy);
- A statement that any employee who engages in sexual harassment will be disciplined, including termination of employment; and
- A requirement that all leadership and supervisors immediately report any perceived incident of sexual harassment.
Further, to be effective, internal policies should be distributed through more than one channel and more than once. To that end, an anti-sexual harassment policy should be included in the employee handbook and also distributed independently to all leadership, supervisors, and general personnel. In addition, all onboarding material for new hires should include the anti-sexual harassment policy. The key here is that the policy is well known and easily accessed by all company personnel (including future new hires).
Step 2: Communication and Practice of the Policy
An anti-sexual harassment policy needs to be successfully implemented throughout the company. At its essence, this means establishing unavoidable awareness of the policy and a method to verify that employees have reviewed the policy. To that end, more needs to be done beyond the inclusion of the policy in the employee handbook. Implementation should also include:
- Group training,
- Online training,
- The training focused on leadership and supervisors, and
- Periodic follow-up and evaluation.
All general training should try to include interactive requirements. Requiring employees to engage in anti-sexual harassment training will not only increase their understanding but also help verify participation and compliance. Online training should be accessed through multiple platforms (e.g., computer, tablet, and phone). Multi-platform access will help with the timeliness of training and eliminate excuses for noncompliance. Finally, training leadership and supervisors should include:
- How to spot sexual harassment,
- The necessity of responding swiftly to incidents of sexual harassment, and
- How to properly report sexual harassment.
Calendaring periodic refresher training and/or certifications are helpful to reinforce the importance of the anti-sexual harassment policy and to make sure that all employees have been trained (i.e., it acts as an audit to ensure that new hires did not slip through without training, that a promoted employee has had supervisor training, etc.)
Step 3: Complaint Procedure for Sexual Harassment
If there is no clear and easy way to report sexual harassment, then the finest policy will be all but worthless. Therefore reporting procedures are critical. Some of the most common barriers to reporting are:
- Limited reporting avenues,
- Fear of exposure (i.e., loss of confidentiality), and
- Fear of retaliation.
A person who reports sexual harassment must have multiple avenues to report the incident to make certain that the alleged harasser can be bypassed easily and completely. To that end, the employee handbook should clearly set forth several appropriate leadership or supervisor options to report sexual harassment. In addition, the employee handbook should state that the report maker and the report itself will be strictly confidential. Finally, an anti-retaliation statement needs to be conspicuously set forth protecting all report makers. Once these reporting barriers are removed, the methodology for the investigation should be set out. The methodology should be included:
- A time frame for the investigation,
- The possible inclusion of third-party investigators,
- How an investigation is concluded,
- A time frame for reporting results, and
- Consequences for confirmed sexual harassment.
The purpose of the above is to reinforce for the victim that once a report is made a system of established procedures and benchmarks are in place, and the investigation will be carried to a conclusion. This assurance helps to eliminate the fear of a sexual harassment report disappearing into a “black hole.”
Smithey Law Group Can Help Craft Your Policy
Our team at Smithey Law Group LLC has been skillfully advising companies on how to protect themselves and their employees. We can help craft an anti-sexual harassment policy specifically designed for your company. If you are wondering about the steps to do in implementing new anti-sexual harassment training, contact us today to see what our years of experience can do for you.