Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: What it is and How to Avoid it

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious offense. It violates not only anti-discrimination laws but also employment contracts, civil rights statutes, and criminal laws. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that between 40% and 50% of all working women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their careers.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Fortunately though, most employers are well aware of how serious this issue is. They take efforts to prevent any cases of sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that may affect an employee’s job performance or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

In other words, not only do comments have to be unwelcome and unwanted by the recipient, but they also have to be so frequent or severe that they create a hostile environment.

Some examples of unwelcome sexual behavior are:

  • Addressing individuals with unwanted/offensive nicknames or sexually explicit slang terms
  • Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, such as verbal comments, jokes, innuendoes, slurs, touching, hugging, kissing
  • Telling sexually suggestive stories or “dirty” jokes
  • Remarks about physical attributes, such as comments about looks or body parts
  • Displaying sexually explicit or suggestive pictures, objects, cartoons, or magazines
  • Leering at someone’s body

How to Avoid Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

As an employer, your topmost responsibility is to develop a clear and effective policy against sexual harassment and communicate it regularly and effectively to all employees.

The policy must explain the legal definition of sexual harassment, how it will be dealt with in your office, and a complaint procedure. If you have more than ten employees, the policy should also explain the training that they’ll receive.

Such a policy not only makes sure that all employees are well aware of what is considered to be sexual harassment in your workplace, but it also protects them from potential lawsuits.

Signs to Look Out For

If you notice any of the following signs in your employees, you should address them immediately:

  • A person is showing an unusual amount of anxiety or nervousness
  • Someone is constantly avoiding a certain individual
  • There’s open hostility towards one employee from the rest of his/her colleagues
  • An employee has made repeated attempts to change shifts or otherwise avoid contact with a certain individual

How Can Sexual Harassment Training Help?

As an employer, you should be well aware of the problem that sexual harassment creates in the workplace. You should take all possible measures to avoid its occurrence and protect your employees from any cases that might go unnoticed or untreated.

To do this, it’s a good idea to regularly train your employees about what sexual harassment is and what they should do if it’s occurring to them.

It is also advisable for employers to conduct or sponsor workshops that help managers, supervisors, and other employees identify sexual harassment when they see it and how they can intervene.

Sexual harassment training helps protect you against legal action because if your employees are well informed about the subject of sexual harassment, they will be more inclined to report any incidents or suspicions of such behavior.

What Other Trainings to Implement?

Aside from providing your employees with a regular sexual harassment training, other HR related training is also necessary. It would be helpful also to conduct diversity and inclusion training, abuse training, ethics training and other compliance training related to one’s profession.

Having regular training within your workplace will not only avoid sexual harassment but will also strengthen working relationship.

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